Being someone who has grown up and lived around the Black Country area, ‘Danny And The Human Zoo’ hit very close to home. Lenny Henry, who grew up in Dudley, has diverged from his comedic routes to produce a truly dramatic yet entertaining short film based around his experiences growing up into showbusiness. Lenny is mostly known of his charity work for the organisation Comic Relief, which he co-founded alongside Richard Curtis. Aside from this, Lenny was extremely influential in the comedy scene producing and starring in shows such as ‘The Lenny Henry Show’, ‘Tizwas’ and ‘Three of a Kind’ and has also made an appearance in the immensely popular fantasy film ‘Harry Potter And The Prizoner Of Azkaban’.
‘Danny And The Human Zoo’ is a dramatised catalogue of Lenny’s time growing up in Dudley, a town in the West Midlands which is best known for its accent and contribution towards the industrial revolution. Although Lenny is more commonly associated with comedy, he does have experience in drama, working on shows such as ‘The Syndicate’. Personally, I liked the dark route lenny took when writing this as it reflected his views and opinions growing up as member of the black community in a narrow minded 70’s Britain. But don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of moments that caused the viewer to laugh and smile making for an evenly proportioned and engaging film with plenty of moments which capture the audience’s attention.
As I previously stated, Dudley is best known for its accent. So it was crucial that each cast member could speak in a similar dialect. For the most part each character pulled this off, however I’m thankful that there was some variety as this certain accent can get a tad obnoxious. I must note that at times this infamous ‘Dudley dialect’ did feel overly exaggerated and even fake at times, however I am willing to let that slide as it is a very unique accent to conquer that not even I can achieve correctly. I must admit, it was fun to watch the actors speak in a way which is so familiar to myself.
Because the film was shot primarily in Dudley it was remarkable to see reference to many of the town’s attractions which I have visited and grown up around. Personally I was not born in the 70s so I have no idea what Dudley was like in that time period, which is probably why it was even more interesting to watch. I suspect older generations such as my parents could relate far more to Lenny’s memories of Dudley during this era. I personally loved this aspect of the film because it directly reminded me of my own childhood memories of ‘Dudley Zoo’, the Town’s Arcade and City Centre which I frequented as a child. Lenny could have chose to film elsewhere to make it cheaper and easier for the production, however it was clear to see that he wanted to film in his hometown because he’s so connected with it, and so passionate about sharing his life and hometown with as many people as possible.
Lenny nailed the casting. It was nice to see some fresh talent mixed in with some familiar faces. Lenny’s caricature, ‘Danny’ was played by Kascion Franklin and despite this being his first major role he stole the show by capturing the character perfectly. He was truly brilliant and played a young Lenny Henry extremely well. It was a demanding role which required a lot of emotion and Franklin fitted the part perfectly. But of course You had your famous faces such as comedian Mark Benton who played Syd Noble, and Doctor Who’s Arthur Darvill who played Danny’s quirky yet foul manager: Jonesy. Something that peaked my attention was that Danny’s father was played by none other than comedian and this film’s director: Lenny Henry. I feel that Lenny may have had some trouble emotionally playing this role, as shown in his writing. He was very judgemental of his father but nonetheless loved him dearly, his performance was true and he played his dad exactly how Lenny had remembered him. Lenny clearly believed it was important to play his father himself, and I very much agree. In Fact, It was important to Lenny that each character was portrayed correctly and that was reflected in his choice of cast, he and all the actors did an amazing job in each of their respective roles, be it a Copper or a Bully.
When I first saw the title to this film I was confused to why it was so bizarrely named and questioned if it had any connection to the content. However, as I continued to watch I understood further to why Lenny had named it ‘Danny And The Human Zoo’. As Danny’s stardom grew he became far more irrational and aggressive, almost as if he was a caged animal maybe? His lust for fame took over a young, vulnerable Lenny and turned him into a savage that ended up disregarding his friends and family. In the end it was himself, his Girlfriend and his Manager that turned him into the Freakshow his farther so feared of him becoming. Lenny was very critical of his younger self as evident by this film, and this was his opportunity to apologise to his friends and his family.
If you’re in the UK you can watch ‘Danny And The Human Zoo” on BBC iPlayer for free but for other countries you might have to wait a bit for it to appear on your respective BBC Worldwide channel or possible on Netflix in the future. Overall ‘Danny And The Human Zoo’ was an interesting short film recreating the Life of a young and impressionable Lenny Henry. Therefore I present ‘Danny And The Human Zoo’ a respectful 9/10, I’m certain that this production will receive a few awards and I hope to see more of Lenny’s ingenuity and creativity in future project.
Lenny says he wants more people to film in the West Midlands and I couldn’t agree more, there is so much history and culture in such a small town and I would personally love to see some more productions filmed in the West Midlands. Thank you Lenny for opening the country and world to the West Midlands.