The Resident catches up with film writer and producer Leon F Butler ahead of the première of 100 Streets to chat about filming on his home turf, Battersea, with a stellar cast that includes Idris Elba and Gemma Arterton…
Words: Madeleine Howell
Battersea resident Leon F Butler rose to prominence just this year with the release of his first feature film, 100 Streets, starring Idris Elba and Gemma Arterton. Set in Battersea and Chelsea, it’s a multi-layered drama depicting contemporary south west London and its inhabitants. Next up, he’s set to take his second film to the box office, which will delve into the urban myth of controversial Fulham-born actor, gangster and bodyguard John Bindon.
It’s a multi-layered drama depicting contemporary south west London and its inhabitants
His starting point for 100 Streets, he tells me, was to depict London as it really is. ‘As good as films like Notting Hill are, they show a dreamscape London which Richard Curtis created for Americans to swoon over. Then, films like the classic Nil By Mouth with Ray Winstone and Kathy Burke years ago, and films like Adulthood and Kidulthood, show a London that’s ostracised. You only see the extremes, and the truth is that London’s not like that.
‘Where I live, I look outside my window and see a mixture of apartment buildings, council, blocks and expensive houses – and everyone pretty much lives harmoniously. I wanted to show that we’re all mixed in together and that because we’re not ghettoised, it kind of works.’
The film also gave Butler the opportunity to show off his home turf cinematically: ‘The beach and the river and Battersea Park hasn’t been used that much on screen. It’s always gritty east London or somewhere. I was also keen to walk to set every day,’ he chuckles.
Gemma Arterton, also a Battersea resident, was able to work close to home too and her first scene was filmed at the Battersea Arts Centre on Lavender Hill. The entire movie was filmed on location, with a crew of 60 and no studio over a period of six weeks.
You only see the extremes, and the truth is that London’s not like that
Originally, Butler confides, the film was to be called One Square Mile – but it was changed to 100 Streets avoid confusion with the Square Mile of the City. ‘The significance of that was that it’s about one mile from where I live on Battersea Bridge about half a mile south to the Doddington Estate and then about half a mile north to the King’s Road.’
As well as being inspired by the geography of south west London, Butler also worked with and drew on the real communities within it, who even feature as extras in the film. ‘I genuinely wanted to help the community in Battersea,’ he says.
‘I spoke to Jane Ellison MP and she pointed me in the direction of a charity called Storm Empowerment, which was set up to help people on the estates.’ There’s even a scene where one of Butler’s characters – a cab driver – coaches Battersea Park’s Bedhead Football Club. ‘I really did keep it real,’ he reflects.
Butler’s characters themselves are compelling and complex. ‘Idris plays an ex-England rugby captain who has retired and is kind of a lost soul. He’s been a bad boy but he’s trying to find himself again and he wants his family back – but life isn’t like that. Life moves on and you either have to move with it or you fall.
‘Gemma’s character Emily was a budding actress who had children with him but she’s met someone else, so it’s about whether they work it out, and she wants to get her career back too. It’s a standard Chelsea housewife story really. It deals with real issues and although I suppose not everyone is ex-England rugby or an actress, everyone can relate to their story.’
Life moves on and you either have to move with it or you fall
With his second film well into development and two romantic comedies on the go, we predict more great things to come from this talented south west Londoner, who you might well spot running or walking in Battersea Park or drinking at his favourite haunt, Brinkley’s. ‘It’s a bit old hat, and I drink in Soho now as well because I’m such a luvvie, but I love Brinkley’s.’
After our interview, he’s heading straight off to see his agent to discuss the John Bindon film. ‘He’s worrying about me having too much libellous content in there, so I’ve got to see him this afternoon to take some of it out,’ he laughs. ‘If you’ve got 10 seconds, Google him – it’s a true story.’ We can’t wait to see it on the big screen…