Drug smuggler Hugo (Nicolas Fagerberg) has “the connect”. Or he’d like to think he does. Certainly this debut feature from British director Dan Moss knows several good spots, guiding us through a series of impressive locations with the confidence of a seasoned traveller. After Hugo’s big-money hashish deal in a partly flooded Mumbai building site goes wrong, he’s introduced to Bulu, a blue-powdered hallucinogen with mystical properties. “They say it makes you see the future,” says his go-between (Ashish Verma). Could this mysterious substance make Hugo enough money to satisfy his UK-based bosses? He’ll have to track down a supply source first.
Everything about the London drug world that Hugo then stops off in – from the 80s punk get-ups of the big players to the readiness with which these supposedly shrewd operators approve Hugo’s wild goose chase – is risibly unrealistic. But he’s soon en route to “Fort Lugard, Uganda”, where the plot is on safer ground.
The wise decision to employ locals where possible tells in the compelling specificity of the Ugandan settings and characters. Esther Tebandeke and Rehema Nanfuka are both excellent as, respectively, Kisakye, a village woman with access to the blue stuff and a healthy suspicion of Hugo, and Angela, Kisakye’s more worldly, scheming sister. Hugo is also a very believable example of the kind of straggly bearded adventure-seeker who’s convinced he’s blending in with the locals.
Too believable, almost. These guys get tiresome after a 10-minute chat at the backpacker hostel bar, so why construct a whole film around his story? Especially with an abundance of more intriguing characters relegated to the margins. Imperial Blue aims at a knowing satire of colonial arrogance, yet still, somehow, it’s all about the white guy. Eurocentrism is one helluva drug.
• Imperial Blue is available from 18 January on digital platforms.