Friday, 9 October 2015

Made In Britain (1982)

"I'm a success mate, I'm a fucking star...I'm in exactly the right place at the right time. The fact that you're too fucking thick or stupid to see that, that marks you down" 

Made in Britain was just one of four TV plays in the Tales out of School series, a contemporary quartet of films concerning youth and education and the opportunities, or lack of, available for them. But the success and renown of Made in Britain has meant that it has rather dwarfed the other instalments, which is a shame.

But it's understandable, because Made in Britain is so very fucking good.

I remember the first time I ever saw it. I was absolutely blown away by Tim Roth's performance as the young skinhead Trevor and that wonderful scene in the middle with Geoffrey Hutchings cannily calling every move in Trevor's life, past and present, on the blackboard in the assessment centre. 

Trevor is a a teenager whose latest bout of shoplifting has landed him in trouble once more, forced into the care of weary, ineffective key workers. Aged just sixteen, he's already got a record as long as his arm. He's an habitual offender; a violent, racist, anti-social skinhead. But he's also very bright, and extremely articulate and with a streak of stubborness and individuality which means he refuse to cooperate with all attempts at rehabilitation.

Made in Britain was written by David Leland and directed by his long time collaborator, Alan Clarke. It's the kind of film that Clarke absolutely excelled in, and Trevor is a definitive Clarke character. You can draw a line from Archer in Scum right the way through to Bex in The Firm and you'll be sure to find Trevor leering directly at you in the centre of that line. Each one of them are responsible for actions which means they are shunned by an appalled society, but they are each extremely intelligent and see themselves principally - and correctly - as a desperate victim of the system that they must fight, with the only weapon they have left - their eloquent, aggressive defiance. Even Bex who, with his white collar job as an estate agent, has managed to beat the system to some extent - riding on the Thatcherite wave of the 1980s - still feels the need to act belligerently against some aspect of authority; for Bex, it's tribal and he chooses the most tribal of protest, football hooliganism. Interestingly, when a sequel was mooted to Made in Britain, Leland suggested that Trevor would have remained obnoxious, but diversified into becoming a 'Loadsamoney' style yuppie, spraying Cristal everywhere and generally making a nuisance of himself in the trendy winebars of London.

In a time when the stereotype for skinheads was that of mindless knuckle dragging thugs, Made In Britain was a sobering, thought provoking wake up call. Indeed, Trevor is still to this day (barring Shane Meadows' This Is England) a unique depiction of just such a character, because television all too often takes the easy route of the cliche. There aren't many Alan Clarke's out there now who can tell viewers in their cosy homes just what the real world is actually like - a complex and confusing thing indeed. Speaking of complex, I haven't even mentioned Errol, the rather dopey black youth Trevor 'befriends' in the centre and who, noting Trevor's overbearing charisma and intellectual superiority, begins to act like a sheep, following Trevor around, parroting and mimicking the racist language he uses when targeting the home of an Asian family late at night - "Baboons, go back to the jungle!" - from a young black boy, its very incongruous but all too easy to see the release he gets from it, a chance to let off steam and 'belong' in some strange way. Likewise, Trevor a belligerent racist complete with a tattoo of a swastika between his eyes, doesn't actually seem to have much of a problem with Errol.

Clarke's trademark use of Steadicam makes its debut with Made in Britain, allowing him to capture every spurt of energy the wild Trevor- who can barely keep still - has across the 70 odd minutes. As such Made in Britain is an important, seminal production in the Clarke oeuvre, the first to capture the kinetic fluidity of the characters or the way of life he constantly wished to explore. It is arguably my favourite film of Clarke's.

Made in Britain has been released several times on DVD as a stand alone feature and is available alongside the three other plays in the Tales Out Of School series via Network DVD.

To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classic plays please sign the petition I started here

1 comment:

  1. I watched this again recently on DVD but was actually mainly depressed by it. That's not a criticism of the film itself, writing or acting but there just seemed so little hope in there. Certainly powerful but I won't be rushing to watch it again.