The conversion of stage plays to television and film has been a long standing transition, ranging from Reginald Rose's Twelve Angry Men to Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth. This alteration of mediums has had many successes, most notably with independent dramas, creating an intimacy and intensity that exists both on stage and screen. From 1956-mid 80's, British television was host to a new form of social-realist style drama labelled the 'television play', whose roots where embedded in the theatre, and were adapted into kitchen sink realism, mostly depicting social and political issues forming around working class families. Play for Today was an anthology series that transmitted some of the most important British programmes ever created, and introduced audiences to some of today's most established directors, such as Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Alan Clarke.
In 1982, Clarke directed Made in Britain, his next feature following the highly controversial Scum. The film follows a 16 year old, white power skinhead, Trevor, played by Tim Roth in his acting début, on a self-destructive, downward spiral through the judical system, with his constant confrontation of authoritative figures, set against the backdrop of Thatcher's Britain. After a series of court trials, Trevor is sent by his social worker, Harry, to an Assessment Centre under the belief that he can reform. His time spent in the centre is spent assaulting staff, sniffing glue, and hijacking cars amongst other such acts. Totally undermining stereotyping of the skinhead culture as mindless hooligans, Trevor presents himself as a coherent and intelligent character, brainwashed into a xenophobic mindset, bitter at a world that rejects his views, and obnoxious to the guidance of his social workers.
Much like Archer in Scum and Bexy in The Firm Trevor is a character most typical of Alan Clarke's work; a smart young man, suppressed by authority with a belief that he can fight the system. Behind his belligerence and hostility, there are moments of clarity, and self-awareness, unmasking his hard outer shell to unveil a confused, lonely individual, making it frustrating for those trying to help and rehabilitate him. During his time in the rehabilitation centre, Trevor befriends a black offender, Errol, who accompanies him on his unconscientious activities, stealing cars, defecating on their assessment records, and even on racially motivated attacks. It's the power and ferocity of Roth's character that enables a pliable young black boy to follow the same mind set as a white power skinhead. Trevor's attitude toward Errol is condescending and patronizing, conscious of his own intelligence and eventually uncaring in his attitude towards his unlikely accomplice.
With his discovery of the Stedicam prior to the filming of Made in Britain, and his notoriety for being impatient whilst arranging and producing difficult tracking shots, Clarke uses a mass amount of kinetic energy and fluency with in his camera-work, with each shot following Trevor around each of his endeavours, adding intensity and realism, and forming an almost cinéma vérité style feel to the film. Chris Menges' grim cinematography brilliantly sucks the life from the film, delivering a harsh, gritty portrayal of a Thatcher-esque London, themes that seep into his other work, such as Local Hero, Kes and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.
Filmed during the same era that This Is England is set, Clarke's Made in Britain runs many parallels to Shane Meadow's 2006 independent drama, with the two movies featuring key actors in their debut roles, nationalist and racist themes, and both films showing the struggle of the Labouring class, in a time of tense social unrest, with mass employment, IRA attacks on mainland Britain, The Fawklands Conflict, and riots taking place nationwide prior to the miner's strikes of 1984/85. Where This Is England deals more with the reintroduction of an offender into society, contrasting dark and light elements of childhood, Made in Britain shows the eventual incarceration of the offender, with only the options of conformity, or internment. With an abrupt end to the movie, the audience is left to assume the latter.
words by danny walker.