By Niall Walker
"One story is a monument to British identity, the other its shadow."
At the foot of the Chiltern hills lies the Chequers Estate. Its history is nearly as long as those of its pastoral surroundings: built in 1565, it has survived the past half millennium's civil wars, political intrigues and foreign invasions.
Since the First World War, it has served as an arcadian sanctuary for the chief statesmen and women of the nation. Here, among England's mountain green, Prime Ministers have laid plan to some of the defining political acts of our lifetime.
‘Chequers’, Dennis Thatcher claimed, ‘is why you get the job’. This may not be a sentiment Number 10's current occupant shares. For May has staked her political reputation on a desperate white paper bearing the estate's name. Chequers, it remains to be seen, may go down as the reason she lost the job.
But on these isles, there are other dramas playing out. Shiro’s Story takes us to another estate, one less grandiose, but which sets the scene for another morbid spectacle of life in Britain today.
Shiro, like the PM, is looking to conclude a deal. His life has been transformed by drug money, and with the capital now made, he looks to depart a life of crime to go and raise his young daughter with his girlfriend, Kiera.
What follows are the tragic events which rip away Shiro's superficial satisfaction. He is betrayed, his family are targeted and his friendships are torn apart. Rapman, the film’s brainchild, is the chorus to the action, rapping the narrative with force and eloquence, of a drama from the depths of British society.
Two estates, two stories. Both products of the fears of our nation. Yet viewed to get, it is almost like they have come from different planets.
A tale of two nations
The Chequers deal - or the presumptuously titled ‘Future Relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union’ - was released as a white paper. A certain online encyclopaedia described this as an ‘authoritative report or guide that informs readers concisely about a complex issue and presents the issuing body's philosophy on the matter’. It is 104 pages of royal insignias, Times New Roman, and portrait images of officials.
And yet it is as much a fiction as Rapman's drama. With no hope of implementation, Chequers now finds occupation in the realm of ideas; a myth of intentional obscurity, penned by the divided wings of Britain's elites. It speaks to no one: for who, in this fractured, precipitous moment, finds identity in white margins and bullet points?
Shiro’s story could not be further removed in form. It is a YouTube drama, promoted on independent channel LinkupTV and shot on the concrete pages of South London streets. Its episodes range from 10-18 minutes, and unlike the white paper, millions have tuned in to observe operatic eulogy on a canvas of defiant blackness.
Citizens of Nowhere
More than anything, though, these narratives speak to the divergence in experience that profound social inequality brings. Flicking between them, the contrast becomes clear: ‘We are a great, global nation’…’naah but that treatment is expensive’…’The country comes together’…’Give me the fucking money’…’building a stronger, fairer, more Global Britain’.
One story is a monument to British identity, the other its shadow.
*SPOILER ALERT* For Shiro, it is his daughter, Kyla who offers him departure from the violence and conflict of which he has emerged. The drama’s chilling climax, in which Kyla is fatally shot in revenge for Shiro mistakenly killing his sister in a shootout, is the destruction of the protagonist’s search for a new identity. He wants to be a father, someone who can protect a child from his past. But he cannot escape the divisions that he opened up.
At Chequers, too, Theresa May retreated from the monstrous din of the city. The backstabbers in her office; the rising tide of the populists; and the economic depression fuelling the anger.
But like Shiro, the Prime Minister cannot escape those flames she herself helped to create. No matter how picturesque, no matter how formalised and bullet pointed and wonderfully organised her Chequers’ white paper may appear, it will remain forever an idea, no better than a story.
We want our dreams to continue, but if they are built upon misery and suffering they are destined to become nightmares.
Dreams collide in Britain today. Two worlds, two estates, divided only by several miles and an infinity of experiences. Will they ever meet?