by Allan Fish
(UK 1983 73m) DVD1/2
Bollocks to it!
p Margaret Matheson d Alan Clarke w David Leland ph Chris Menges ed Stephen Singleton m The Exploited art Jamie Leonard
Tim Roth (Trevor), Sean Chapman (Barry Giller), Terry Richards (Errol), Eric Richard (Harry Parker), Christopher Fulford (PC Anson), Geoffrey Hutchings,
It was impossible to watch Shane Meadows’ This is England without thinking of Made in Britain. Alan Clarke’s film seemed to hover over it like a cloud that wouldn’t go away. This is England got rave reviews on both sides of the pond, but in the UK often by people who weren’t old enough to remember Clarke, while in the States virtually no-one had heard of him at all. Meadows’ film begins with a montage of disconnected events from the early eighties to set a pattern, but basically takes place in 1983. It was the same year in which Alan Clarke’s piece first came to light on TV. It was shown as the final part of a series of four plays by David Leland entitled ‘Tales Out of School’. The earlier portions – entitled Birth of a Nation, Flying into the Wind and Rhino – are generally forgotten (Birth of a Nation very unjustly), but Made in Britain refuses to go away, and had refused to go away even before Meadows stirred memories of its power.
Trevor is a sixteen year old anarchistic skinhead, with a passion not so much for violence but chaos. Up again in front of the judge for the latest in his list of crimes – which range from car theft to racist abuse to actual assault – he’s again put in the care of his social worker, Harry, who tells him to stay out of trouble for a couple of weeks at the detention centre while he goes on holiday. Trevor, meanwhile, cannot stay out of trouble long enough for Harry to even board the plane to his destination.
Alan Clarke himself is undoubtedly one of the major figures in small screen history, a name who should slip off the tongue as readily as Dennis Potter, John Cleese or Alan Bleasdale. Yet even in Britain he’s often marginalised, where the conservative portions of society never forgave him for showing borstal as it was in Scum – firstly in a banned TV version and later as a film. He died in his mid fifties in 1990, the very same year that his contemporary Ken Loach made a comeback with two films. But Clarke was a very different animal to Loach, for though Loach did deal with outsiders and the lower middle-classes, he didn’t deal with the real lowlifes. Clarke was, as David Thomson observed, “an amazing director, lucid, quick, pungent, very entertaining, unsentimental, a master with actors, and a poet for all those beasts who pace and measure the limits of their cages.” Many of Clarke’s protagonists seem like animals in cages, in the case of the inmates in Scum literally, but they are real, often viscerally so. His protagonists are the sort who have slithered out from under some rock and are proud of it, characters who make their poetry with their fists and divers profanities, both verbal and physical.
Certainly this was never truer than when thinking of Roth’s Trevor. In his debut, Roth is simply sensational, a force of angry, fuck-off nature with a swastika tattooed on the bridge of his nose. He’s a symptom of the Thatcherite Britain that Shane Meadows grew up in, a Thatcherite Britain that now, thankfully, seems but a distant nightmare. Unlike most directors taking a scalpel to the corpse of society, Clarke doesn’t shy away. He’s no idealist seeking for cheap, pat answers to these impossible questions, seeking for motives behind individual actions. He doesn’t paper over the cracks by stitching up the wound, he rather tears the wound open and rams the camera right inside the gash and forces you to look. You loathe Trevor, you despise every fibre of his being, but he somehow seems so much more real than those he’s railing against. To think of him causing carnage at the dole office, or literally pissing on his case history and, most memorably, casting off his shirt and striding down a tunnel looking for a fight, screaming at passers by is indelible. Even at the end, as he realises his deserved fate, he doesn’t give a proverbial crap. Bring it on! All other imitators just don’t cut it, I’m afraid. Roth’s Trevor is the very black soul that the Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy in theUK’ was written for.