Film review – The Hard Stop (George Amponsah, 2016)

‘The Hard Stop’ documents the 2011 London riots that erupted in the aftermath of the police shooting of Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old black British man. Given the current events in Dallas, Texas, the release of the film couldn’t have been more relevant.

The film concentrates on Marcus Knox-Hooke and Kurtis Henville. Both were close friends of Duggan for many years prior to his death, and both were members of the Tottenham Man Dem, a gang formed out of the Broadwater Farm housing estate in Tottenham. Broadwater Farm was the setting for a brutal riot in 1985 that was believed to be caused by the police raiding a home and causing the heart attack of resident Cynthia Barrett. The main reason it is remembered across the UK is the death of PC Keith Blakelock, the first policeman to die in a riot in the UK since 1833.

The film paints a balanced view of both Marcus and Kurtis. Growing up in the aftermath of the 1985 riots, the two are family-oriented men with their home community at the centre of their make-up. Their upbringing – and that of Mark Duggan – has clearly been one overshadowed by suspicion and resentment for a police force that should be there to protect them, but instead seem to constantly be at odds with their community.

the hard stop screenshot

It is an unsettling film for a number of reasons. The media portrayal of the 2011 riots (that quickly spread around the country) seldom touched on the root cause, instead focusing on the looters and chancers that saw it as an opportunity to make some money out of the pandemonium. The anger from the black community in London at the injustice of what happened to Duggan was completely suppressed. I am sorry to say that as a white man, the underlying cause of the riots was not apparent to me and none of the many news outlets I have touch-points with exposed me to the full picture.

The reveal of the eventual findings of the inquest into his death was the most shocking moment of the film. The inquest found that, whilst it was unlikely that Duggan was carrying a gun, the killing was unfathomably still deemed lawful. The emotional response of the community in which Duggan lived was one of absolute devastation and was captured in a moment of brilliant documentary film-making by director Amponsah. This is not a community that wants to fight, but as the opening quote of the film states, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

‘The Hard Stop’ is one of the most important documentary films to hit the big screens this year. Out of necessity, it is rough around the edges. It has, at the heart of it, some of the greatest social themes facing Britain today. A riveting watch.