John Boyega (centre) as Moses; below: Nick Frost who appears as the gang’s easygoing drug dealer, Ron; overlaid: Joe Cornish.

LEARN THE LINGO A brief guide to Attack The Block’s council estate argot

‘BARE’ Very; lots of; a great deal. As in: ‘There’s bare aliens out there!’ ‘SHIV’ Stab; stabbing implement also ‘shank’. As in: ‘I’m gonna shiv you, bruv.’

‘FAM’ Mate; friend; family. As in: ‘You get me, fam?’ ‘TRUST’ Honestly; believe me; take my word for it. As in: ‘This will be the greatest night ever. Trust.’

‘MERK’ Kill; mug; attack. As in: ‘Go down there and you’ll get merked.’ ‘ALLOW IT’ Yes; affirmative; general approval. As in: ‘That alien is getting merked. Allow it.’

like huge clapped-out spaceships, or they’re like Nakatomi Plaza [from Die Hard], or the Nostromo [from Alien]!”’ He saw similar cinematic potential in the street slang regularly used by London gangs. ‘I was excited by the language, it was another place where this scenario that’s usually used for downbeat depressing social realism could be taken in another direction, towards all the kind of escapist, joyful, science fictional things that I love, and I think probably the kids who live in those places love too.’ To achieve authenticity Cornish, who admits to being ‘a tiny bit less “street” than Prince Charles’ spent months visiting youth groups in south London, telling them the story of Attack The Block and recording everything they said, ‘as if it was a linguaphone course and I was learning Italian’. The result of that investment is obvious on screen, with the kids’ sometimes impenetrable dialogue sounding as far from Cornish’s own precise enunciation as possible. Meeting with those groups had a secondary value too, as it cemented Cornish’s conviction that these ‘hoodies’ were worthy of better treatment on film. ‘We did find some who were quite similar to Moses, who’d been excluded from school or got involved with bad stuff. And they’re not monsters. They’re very empathic, and when you spend a bit of time with them they’re normal and sweet, enthusiastic and bright. But they’ve just been cornered a bit by life, and I think that often the way they’re portrayed doesn’t help with that. Culturally, it makes the problem worse, not better.’

Apart from the imminent release of his debut movie there is another not-insignificant string to Cornish’s filmmaking bow; he is co-writer of one of 2011’s most anticipated blockbusters, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s The Adventures of Tintin, shot in motion-captured 3D and due for release this October. Cornish plays down his involvement (‘really you’re talking to the lowest person on the food chain’) but it begs the question, how did that happen? It was, he says ‘purely about being friends with clever people and sticking with them. Peter Jackson had called Edgar [Wright], because they needed some work done on the Tintin script, and Edgar knew I was a Tintin fan, and before I knew it I was sitting round a table with Mr Spielberg and Mr Jackson.’ And what was it like being slotted in beside the biggest cogs in the Hollywood machine? For Cornish it basically meant ‘very hard work; those guys are very clever and bright, and they don’t beat around the bush in terms of telling you what they think. In a very nice polite way, of course.’

For Tintin fans the prospect of Spielberg’s long-gestating film has been exciting and nerve-wracking in equal measure, but Cornish and Wright’s involvement is a promising indicator that this won’t be a mangled studio version of the beloved books. ‘In terms of the [film’s] world,’ says Cornish, ‘it’s pretty true to the books. There are things you have to do to the narrative just because of the way those books were written; structurally they climax on every page, and the characters take a while to get introduced throughout the series. So there’s stuff one has to compress a bit, to make work over a feature-length running time, but I think [fans] will be happy with how faithful it is.’ As for directing again, Cornish has ‘lots of ideas’ and seems firmly bitten by the filmmaking bug. ‘I loved it. It’s all consuming, but it’s really enjoyable. The lack of sleep is tough, but I feel I’ve spent so much of my life being lazy that I can deal with a couple of years of sleepless nights.’

Attack The Block is on general release from Fri 13 May. See review, page 55. 28 Apr–26 May 2011 THE LIST 17