Continuing our Best of British series, HorrorGeekLife looks at 7 films, depicting so-called Broken Britain, that the world should be watching.
7. A Room for Romeo Brass (Dir. Shane Meadows, 1999)
Even back in 1999, it was clear that Paddy Considine and Shane Meadows were a magical pairing. While some believe Dead Man’s Shoes to have been the pairs greatest collaboration, I’d argue that it’s this tale of two 12-year-old kids whose friendship is put to the test when they find themselves involved with strange loner Morell (Considine).
Morell, who seemingly appears from nowhere, slowly places himself between the young leads, ostracizing one while seemingly grooming the other. But when his hold over the titular Romeo begins to dissipate, Morell shows himself for the dangerous sociopath he really is.
6. East is East (Dir. Damien O’Donnell, 1999)
Meet George Khan (Om Puri). He’s a proud Pakistani, and a chip shop owner. He has a nice life in 1970’s Salford, and enjoys his status in the mixed community, contrary to the social unrest in the country at that time. The only thing he wants for, is the tradition he holds so close to his heart, to continue through his children. It’s a shame then, that they don’t feel the same way.
Much of East is East‘s humour, is derived from the conflict between traditional Pakistan life, and the Westernization of the generation that followed the original migrant workers to the country. George – who is referred to as Genghis by his kids – has married a White British woman, played by the superb Linda Bassett, who is torn between honoring her husband and wanting her kids to enjoy the freedom that life in England affords them.
Easily one of the finest comedies of the 1990’s, or any time. East is East also has some incredibly dark moments, which brought home the reality of the situation we find the Khan family in.
5. Withnail and I (Dir. Bruce Robinson, 1987)
Withnail and I is equal parts tragic, relatable and utterly hilarious. It is not only considered to be one of the all-time classic British films, it is also an infamous drinking game that, as legend has it, will leave the players feeling like “A pig shat in their head”. That should tell you an awful lot about the movie.
The film itself is semi-autobiographical, and follows 2 unemployed actors, Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and Marwood (Paul McGann), who spend their days drifting from their squalid London flat, to the local pubs, and back again. In a bid to break their tired routine, the pair go on holiday “By mistake”, and their tenuous relationship slowly begins to rot from the inside out.
4. 24 Hour Party People (Dir. Michael Winterbottom, 2002)
Every generation has a music scene that it calls its own. For the kids of Manchester in the post-Punk era of the late 1970’s to early 1990’s, it was the so-called Madchester scene, spearhead by Factory Records and Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan).
The film chronicles Factory’s hedonistic rise from a tiny club night to a juggernaut of the music industry, unleashing the likes of Joy Division, New Order and The Happy Mondays onto an unsuspecting public. Sex, drugs and rock n roll are all on the menu, with an extra helping of drugs in this essential biography for music fans, and fans of British culture in general.
3. Nil by Mouth (Dir. Gary Oldman, 1997)
Gary Oldman’s directorial debut is not for the faint hearted. It is so unflinching in its depiction of violence, that it walks a fine line between dramatic and unwatchable. The later though is not an option, as you simply can’t take your eyes off what is unfolding.
This semi-biographical tale, that is dedicated to Oldman’s Father, stars Ray Winstone as a heavy drinking, quick tempered Londoner who doesn’t think twice about beating his wife. In one particular scene, Winstone’s Raymond punches and kicks his heavily pregnant wife half to death in a jealous rage. She doesn’t leave him though. It’s the cycle she’s a part of.
On a lighter note, Nil by Mouth is credited as having the most uses of the word “Cunt”, with a total of 82 uses. This goes nicely hand in hand with the record setting 428 uses of the word “Fuck”.
2. This is England (Dir. Shane Meadows, 2006)
It’s 1983. Britain is still reeling from its involvement in the Falklands War, and social unrest is at an all-time high. The National Front is on the rise, capitalizing on the xenophobia that is rife at the time. The original Skinhead movement, which was never about racism or violence, still exists but is seemingly on the decline.
Enter Shaun. A 12-year-old kid with no role model. Shaun, who’s a bit of a loser, is welcomed into a group of friendly, older Skins, who provide him the sense of a family he so longs for. But when a former member of the gang returns from a stint in prison, with a whole new world view, Shaun finds himself gravitating towards him and his extreme outlook.
In typical Shane Meadows fashion, This is England is a coming of age tale, set in the working class British North. It is his greatest work, bar none, and spawned 3 mini series on Channel 4 years later.
1. Raining Stones (Dir. Ken Loach, 1993)
UK readers will remember Bruce Jones as Les Battersby from long running soap opera Coronation Street. But as Bob in Raining Stones, he couldn’t be further from the loud mouthed tosser he portrayed there. He’s a family man who’s fallen on hard times. He can’t find work, he has no money, and all he wants is a nice dress for his daughter to wear at her pending communion.
Bob will do whatever he can to make ends meet, whether it’s getting covered in shit snaking drains at the local vicarage, or working the doors at nightclubs. It’s only when he borrows £150 from a loan shark that things start to come unglued.
Ken Loach has often been described as the voice of the voiceless, making realistic films about the state of “broken Britain”, and Raining Stones may be his very best.