Posts Tagged ‘Small Island’

It’s Remembrance Sunday and I want to pay my respects. Processing, as I do, by means of popculture, I see a themed viewing as an apt means of tribute. So this is my recommended viewing for after the service. I’ve tried to avoid the obvious- there are no de facto (world) war films in the list- but I thought about National Identity, Pride and Heroism, Freedom and Liberation. They are a loose frame around a day of reflection. In no particular order:

1. This Is England (Meadows, 2007, UK)

Against the backdrop of the Falklands, which is approaching its 30th anniversary, a flawed but brilliant flick about identity and the freedoms soldiers died protecting being undermined by our own people, on our own soil. Thatcher hadn’t fucked us right up yet, but she was getting there, nationalism had an ugly grip on national pride and we had to reassert our place on the world stage. Without invading anyone for a change.

2. Small Island (BBC, 2009, UK)

A two-part BBC adaptation of Andrea Levy’s immense novel. The oft-untold story of West Indian volunteers who gave up life in paradise to come to Europe and fight for British liberty. They were granted citizenship, but that didn’t afford them equality when they got here. A stain on our upstanding record, but it reveals an important chapter in how we came to be the diverse Britain we are today, and why black people here are British and not ‘African-English’ or something. Because although race isn’t a big part of my personal identity construction, British racial unity is very important to me and my sense of nation. Young Ashley Walters is a fine actor and a living example of redemption and rehabilitation for disadvantaged inner city men. The tiny personal victories and losses of the characters in Small Island every bit as important as the almost incomprehensible scale of the military campaigns.

3. Four Lions (Morris, 2010, UK)

Maybe a controversial choice, surely an irreverent one, but it is a true testament to the British spirit that we are ready to satirise our biggest threat (beyond climate change.) We are free to depict the enemy within, to identify, vilify and mollify their actions and our fears. That is what living in a free and fair society means in 2011- we may not always be able to protect our streets, but we’ve always got spirit. In the blitz sense, not in the cheerleading way. There’s nothing more British than laughing at that which may well be our undoing, over a cup of tea and a digestive, or a pint and a kebab, on the Tube breathing in other people’s breath or on the beach breathing in brine and sewage. You’ve got to laugh.

4. Children of Men (Cuarón, 2006, UK/USA)

This is a dark film, but beautifully shot. A dystopian near future where more people are displaced by war than have a nation it seems. This is, above all, a picture about the heroism of the British Everyman. Despite his apathy, his dejection and the starkness of the odds, Clive Owen’s Theo goes to great lengths to fight for someone else’s freedom. In a Britain torn apart by nationalist infighting and homegrown terrorism he still recognises the rights of the individual and the need for the greater good and he acts on it. Like every Brit should and I hope I would. This is the flick that made me think- ‘we’re in a state right here, but maybe what our grandfathers fought for wasn’t all for nothing.’

5. When The Wind Blows (Murakami, 1986, UK)

The saddest animation ever made? This sucker punch of a film, in Raymond Briggs’ gentle watercolour, is a Cold War horror story in picture book’s clothing but also a sweet tale of love and innocence from the generation who withstood the Nazi onslaught and still raised our parents to mind their Ps and Qs. Only one couple appear in the whole film, but the unspoken desolation, the implied genocide, chills you more than any slasher flick or CGI spectacular. It is, after all, a day of reflection. Let us also be thankful that during those fraught days the war machine for once did not grind into action. CND- I salute you too.

6. My Neighbour Totoro (Miyazaki, 1988, JP)

The only non-British film on the list (not deliberately, I must be feeling patriotic.) This is one of my three go to films when I just need to feel glad. [Bande A Part and Enchanted if you’re wondering- Sx] It is sweet and unsullied by worldliness and as the adorable hand drawn credits roll, I just smile. It’s a rare thing for me and in general. For something to be pleasant with no agenda, for children to start off innocent… and remain so, is like an orchid in December. This film reminds me of when I thought the world was essentially good and that fairness was a reality, rather than a nice idea; on a day when we think of the lives we could have had, if not for the bravery and sacrifice of people who would never know us, I think it’s important to appreciate simple pleasures too, otherwise what was the point of our deliverance?

13.11.11 Remembrance Sunday 2011.

More of a telly post than a filmy one- again, but it is all long form, screen-based popculture and I’m trying to differentiate The Noctuary from SL. More on Downton Abbey soon to come over there.

My AS Film Studies tutor always tried to impress upon us that each film is a ‘CULTURAL ARTEFACT’, every celluloid submission reflects and represents the society and era in which it is made- even if the content is ostensibly concerned with a near or distant past, future or part of the world. This is perhaps a bit of a stretch, but the evidence suggested that there was more than a grain of applicable theory in it. To use an inept metaphor. His favourite example was how Hitchcock’s adaptation of The Thirty-Nine Steps spoke of pre-war anxieties about fascist Europe.

I mention this because, subsequent to having this idea ingrained in my critical mind, I have been pondering the significance of the rash of backwards-looking British dramas of late. With the new series of ITV’s cracking rendering of early-century manners and mores upon us, now in the midst of the Great War, what are we trying to say to ourselves?Cast of ITV's Downton Abbey

With The Hour [which I entirely failed to watch, despite downloading all the episodes from iPlayer], the Beeb’s misfired 60s kitsch-and-conspiracy series, opening up dramatic lines of enquiry into our increasingly activist Cold War media, (to poor viewing figures and decidedly ambivalent critical response), it seems that period of our past isn’t salient to the collective conscious at present. America’s continual nostalgic love affair with the 50s and early 60, so well served by the much-vaunted Mad Men, continues apace though; The Playboy Club amongst others garnering a high profile, with its promise of more glossy, stylish misogyny and unfettered Capitalism.

Colin Forth in The King's SpeechThe nation capturing if uninspired The King’s Speech and Auntie’s attempted revival of Upstairs Downstairs [To continue without the venerable Eileen Atkins, alas] dealt with the ailing Upper Class’ internal malaise and uncomfortable proximity to fascism and even Nazism. The Hour’s Romola Garai (no stranger to period projects) also starred a couple of years ago in appeasement thriller Glorious 39 with strangely beautiful Eddie Redmayne [Andrew Garfield-alike and shrewd chooser of roles. I’d love to see those two play brothers with Harry Treadaway.] SpThe Night Watch BBCeaking of Treadaway, he gave a lovely turn in the woefully insubstantial The Night Watch last month. With such sound and complex source material and a reliable history of success for Sarah Waters adaptations, The Beeb really could have thrown some cash at this- or at least afforded a more appropriate runtime. The format of the novel very clearly lends itself to three hour long episodes. As it was, we were simply left with a nuance-free précis, albeit an impeccably cast one. With the exception, that is, of leading lady Anna Maxwell-Martin, entirely misplaced as Kay.

Wartime tales of ordinary Brits are so commonplace as to be virtually irrelevant to a discussion about fictional reflections of current concerns [I mean never, ever forget, but it is really time we got over it], but recent offerings The Night Watch and 2009’s (also exquisitely cast but narratively insufficient adaptation) Small Island have at least proffered a perspective from typically under-represented subcultures beguiled and let down by the promise of social progression that wove itself through the war effort.

The  Night Watch- Duncan and Fraser

With austerity, rioting, a callous and oblivious Tory government, endemic social stratification and a demonised and disenfranchised youth in mass unemployment, a slew of films and programmes full of 60s activism, 70s social seesawing and general strikes and 80s boom and crippling bust seem inevitable; those times are far back enough now to be scrutinised, rather than skimmed for mere nostalgia- and there are clearly lessons we’ve failed to learn.

Back to the Abbey (never seen monk mind you- don’t think wet cousin Matthew counts) and it seems women really ran the households in those days and Society, for the most part. With our emancipation has come a loss of gumption, an inability to guide the affairs of man; what with them now being our affairs I suppose. There has been an alarming backslide amongst women of my generation, afraid of being labelled ‘Feminists’, wanting our modern men to be macho and commanding, asking our fathers for our hands in marriage, before said fathers ‘give’ aforementioned daughters ‘away’ at the altar. I can’t even begin to express my despair and disgust at educated, socially advantaged young women in a progressive First World country, demanding to be made chattels and passed from the possession of whatever man happened to impregnate her mother into the ownership of anyone else who happens to own a penis. Never mind what’s in it for you ladies.

Harking back to my opening comments on cultural artefacts, I couldn’t say whether the series seeks to chastise modern women for wasting their emancipation or celebrate the fact that we no longer need to subvert established power structures. This is clearly a time for introspection, I feel. The tenth anniversary of the 11th September and all that ensued is inevitably instigating that, but more recent events should be a more potent catalyst to take a long hard look at our national character and the values we uphold. On the heels of Boardwalk Empire making its way across the Atlantic, followed by Mildred Pierce, perhaps this isn’t a strictly British (or rather, English) phase of reflection, though self-analysis isn’t really the US way. I don’t really know what we’re trying to say to ourselves yet, only time will tell.