CITYOFTINYLIGHTS | Riz Ahmed re­turns from a gal­axy far, far away to play a British Asian pri­vate eye in mod­ern-day Lon­don

Crime Scene - - CASE NOTES - By NEIL SMITH

It’s weird we have so few British films set in Bri­tain that look and feel like con­tem­po­rary Bri­tain does,” sighs Riz Ahmed. “They all seem to be pe­riod dra­mas. Yet I don’t think our most ex­cit­ing sto­ries are way be­hind us in the dis­tant past. I think our most ex­cit­ing sto­ries are hap­pen­ing right now.”

It was one such story that drew the 34-year-old Four Li­ons star – hot­ter than hot at present thanks to his re­cent roles in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and HBO’S The Night Of – to City Of Tiny Lights, an adap­ta­tion of Pa­trick Neate’s 2005 novel about a British Asian pri­vate eye solv­ing mys­ter­ies from his of­fice above a west Lon­don cab firm.

“I loved the idea of tak­ing the gumshoe genre and bring­ing it up to date,” says the ac­tor, who thinks his Tommy Akhtar char­ac­ter of­fers “a fresh take on the ar­che­typal pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor. I’m al­ways at­tracted to break­ing tropes and re­fur­bish­ing them. This film has the same molec­u­lar struc­ture as a clas­sic pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor movie, but dif­fer­ent DNA.”

For di­rec­tor Pete Travis ( Dredd), the chief ap­peal of the film was the op­por­tu­nity it pro­vided to show Lon­don in all its mul­ti­cul­tural glory. “I was bored see­ing films set in the place I live in which I didn’t recog­nise,” says the Sal­ford-born helmer. “You live in a city and you watch films set in that city and you feel you’re liv­ing in a dif­fer­ent place. This was sort of a love story to the city and its di­ver­sity. We looked at a lot of gumshoe films and tried to imag­ine what it would be like to be liv­ing in that world now.”

The world in City Of Tiny Lights is cer­tainly far re­moved from Philip Mar­lowe’s Los An­ge­les. The de­tails, how­ever, are in­stantly fa­mil­iar: a femme fa­tale ( The Good Wife’s Cush Jumbo), a sul­try old flame ( Doc­tor Who’s Bil­lie Piper) and a mur­der mys­tery that con­nects peo­ple from all walks of life. Prop­erty de­vel­op­ers, MI5 and rad­i­cal Is­lam hate-preach­ers are just a few of the play­ers here.

“The script caught my imag­i­na­tion straight away,” says Jumbo. “It spoke to me emo­tion­ally and was an ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­nity to do some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

What re­ally sold the project, though, was the chance it gave the 31-year-old to re­turn to her roots. “At one point I was shoot­ing a cou­ple of streets away from a pri­mary school I went to,” she re­mem­bers. “I was ex­cited by how the film holds up a mir­ror to my city…”

City Of Tiny Lights opens on 7 April.

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