Why are British films not angrier about the state of the country?

Ray-Winstone-Scum.jpg
Patrick Murray and Ray Winstone in Alan Clarke’s 1979 film ‘Scum’

A generation ago, British films like Isaac Julien’s ‘Young Soul Rebels’, which is screening at the BFI, embodied such a rich period for polemical and engaged filmmaking

Where are all the Brexit movies? One of the most dispiriting elements about the British film industry currently is its almost complete failure to engage with the complexities and turbulence of contemporary British life. Ken Loach apart, few directors old or young are making movies which explore the tensions and injustices in our society or the grotesque comedy of Britain’s blundering search for the Exit signs from Europe.

“I haven’t seen a great Brexit film. I don’t feel the British cinema is engaging with the contemporary in any interesting way at all,” screenwriter and novelist Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful LaundretteSammy and Rosie Get Laid) recently observed.

There is one film screening in London this month that does address racism, nationalism and the tension between classes and generations. It has punks, skinheads, inebriated Scots, soul music DJs, murderers, bent police officers and sneering media folk among its characters. It could be the perfect Brexit movie if it weren’t for the fact that it is set in 1977 (Jubilee year) and was released in 1991. Isaac Julien’s Young Soul Rebels, the film in question, is screening at the British Film Institute as part of the season Nineties – Young Cinema Rebels, celebrating “the explosive and iconic film and TV of the 1990s”.

It is probably no coincidence that the Thatcher years were such a rich period for polemical and engaged British filmmaking. Julien’s film was made right at the end of the Thatcher era but had the energy, rage and irreverence that characterised so many British films of the time.

“Thatcher was fantastic for dissent,” Kureishi remembers.  “She really created this wall of fury which came out of British youth culture… she was great, very stimulating. Our hatred was very useful at that time.” [ . . . ]

CONTINUE AT the independent: Why are British films not angrier about the state of the country?

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