Few feature films in recent memory have generated as much excitement around the city of London as Searchlight’s latest pic Rye Lane.
Written and directed by debut feature filmmaker Raine Allen-Miller, the romantic comedy, set in the bustling, predominantly Black neighborhood of Peckham, South London, is the talk of the town following its strong debut out of Sundance in January.
Deadline’s Anna Smith described the pic as a “sunny, irreverent take on life and love” that provides an “energetic bounce forward” for the romantic comedy genre.
“I wish I could step back and embrace it all, but I’m so nervous,” Allen-Miller told Deadline shortly before the film’s UK premiere at Peckhamplex, a historic community cinema in South London. “My worst nightmare is that people from South London watch it and think, Oh, God.”
The pic follows Dom, played by David Jonsson (Industry), and Yas (Vivian Oparah), a pair of twentysomethings nursing bad breakups, who find each other as they roam around the city, falling into a collection of tricky episodes, each more surreal and comedic than the last.
Bloods scribes Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia wrote the film’s screenplay, which was handed to Allen-Miller by prolific British indie producer Damian Jones (See How They Run), who shares a credit on the pic with Yvonne Isimeme Ibazebo (Top Boy).
Searchlight boarded the pic after it was developed at BBC Film with producer Eva Yates and is releasing the film in UK theaters on March 14 before taking it stateside for a straight-to-streaming release on Hulu on March 31.
Below, we catch up with Allen-Miller about the buzz surrounding her feature debut, the influence Small Axe filmmaker Steve McQueen has on her work, and Searchlight’s plan to skip US theaters and drop the film straight on Hulu. Warning, we get into some heavy spoilers, so read with caution.
DEADLINE: How did you link up with Damian Jones?
RAINE ALLEN-MILLER: Yvonne Ibazebo told Damien about me, and I just got a random email from him that said, hey, what do you think of this script? I didn’t have an agent at the time. I’d done my short film, Jerk. I had originally thought I would only direct things I had written, but I was always open to reading a script. And so Damien sent it to me. I read it on the train and laughed out loud in front of everyone, so I knew that was a sign. I also liked the fact that it was a simple story. It’s two people walking around. In many ways, that’s the perfect canvas for a director. Although the film was originally set in Camden, North London. I wasn’t sure about that. But I met the writers, and they were so collaborative and excited about the idea of South London, so we developed the script for two years together.
DEADLINE: Why did you move the film from Camden to Peckham, South London?
ALLEN-MILLER: I love Camden. I used to go there every Friday after school to hang out. But South London, for me, is a very special place. When I was 12, I moved there from Manchester. One of the first things I did was go to Brixton market with my grandma, and she took me on a tour where she told me the places I could go to get my Jamaican spice or Plantain or an Afro comb. I felt so connected to my heritage and my grandma. I love South London. It’s not an easy place to live, and it’s not always happy. But this film is about a happy day in South London. And I think that deserves to have a light shone on it.
DEADLINE: There’s a big Burrito-related ‘Love Actually’ reference in the film that stars Colin Firth. Why did you decide to slot that in?
ALLEN-MILLER: I wanted to do that because I knew whatever happened, people were going to compare Rye Lane to British romcoms and other British films, so I thought it would be fun to make a joke out of it.
DEADLINE: How did you get Colin Firth in the film?
ALLEN-MILLER: I wrote him a letter. One of the exec producers on the film had worked with him on something. And so I wrote the letter, and she sent it to him. He replied saying, “As long as I get a burrito out of it.”
DEADLINE: Rye Lane has a very distinct visual style. Were you pulling from any references when crafting the film?
ALLEN-MILLER: I pulled one very specific reference from the Peep Show, the best show ever. It’s the shot where you go super close on a wide lens, and the actor looks slightly above the lens so that you’re not breaking the fourth wall, but you’re in their head. Olan, the cinematographer, and I called it the Peep shot. Also, my biggest hero is probably Steve McQueen. There is no word to describe how amazing and how much Steve McQueen inspires me. But I’m also a very different director to Steve McQueen. I just feel so empowered by what he’s doing.
DEADLINE: How do you feel about the film heading straight to Hulu in the states?
ALLEN-MILLER: As a director, you dream of your film being projected. I want those amazing faces to be projected on a big screen and for that amazing location to be presented on the big screen. However, I think cinema should be accessible in every sense of the word, and some people can’t go to the theater physically, and some can’t afford it. Some people don’t want to after COVID, so it’s great that it will be on a streaming service that’s so broad. So there’s a combination of feelings. The craftsperson in me is a little disappointed about it not being projected everywhere, but at the same time, it’s a positive thing.
DEADLINE: In the history of British cinema, there have been less than ten theatrically released films by Black British women. What do you think about that stat, and how do you feel about joining this small group of filmmakers?
ALLEN-MILLER: It’s a complete joke. It’s so depressing all around. BAFTA is depressing. The Oscars are depressing. I just can’t wait to not be depressed about it anymore.
DEADLINE: What are your hopes for the release of Rye Lane?
ALLEN-MILLER: I’ve got two things: I want people from similar backgrounds to me to feel they’ve been captured in a way that’s positive and funny and silly and goofy because Black people can also be goofy and silly. But in terms of the wider world, I want people to have had a nice time watching it.