Those who haven’t travelled to the UK often has a very romanticised view of our culture and lifestyle from watching Downton Abbey and Hugh Grant romcoms – but in truth the UK and its film industry is a whole lot more diverse than that.
Love Actually and Bridget Jones’ Diary captivated many a romantic dreamer, but that’s not all the UK film industry has to offer. The more popular UK films might leave viewers thinking that we all live in mansions and drink tea in the countryside, but that’s just not the case. The UK has a plethora of directors making great films about youth culture that deal with real issues experienced by people in the UK in recent decades. While my list of five films aren’t the most wanderlust inducing and probably won’t make you swoon over English traditions, all of them taught me a lot about the socio-cultural background of the country where I grew up.
Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s cult novel follows the heroin fuelled existence of Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) and his mates in the dirty back streets of Edinburgh. Our protagonists snub society and domesticity, instead opting to steal televisions so they can shoot up. This visually intense dark comedy asks what life is really about – and whether it even matters.
This is England
This Is England is Shane Meadow’s quasi-autobiographical take on the misunderstood skinhead subculture of the 1980s. The film centres on the 13-year old Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) who instead of being beaten up by the local skinhead gang in a sketchy underpass unexpectedly finds sympathy and understanding.
My Beautiful Laundrette
In a grubby area of 1980s London, Omar (Gordon Warnecke), a young Pakistani, tries his hand at turning a run-down laundromat into a successful business. However, soon Omar finds himself the victim of a racist attack by a punk group which is led by his former lover, Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis). My Beautiful Laundrette is a film that openly tackles issues of racism, homosexuality and class in one fell swoop.
Billy Elliot is an emotional but relatively upbeat story about a young boy growing up in the midst of the 1984 miner’s strike. Each character fights with their own crisis of masculinity: while Billy’s father struggles without work and his older brother joins local riots, Billy discovers a passion for ballet. Despite his father’s protests, Billy refuses to trade his dancing shoes for boxing gloves.
Based on a rock opera by the Who, this energetic film depicts the moral panic of the 1960s when British teenagers were rioting in the streets. The main character Jimmy (Phil Daniels) and the group of Mods that he’s in with plan a weekend away in Brighton – but so do the Rockers. The result is a violent clash on the beach front where deckchairs go flying and youths are pushed over the promenade.
Though I can’t claim that my life in the UK was anywhere near as gritty or sensational as the protagonists of these five films, I can relate to all of them far better than I can to any film starring Hugh Grant. Times have changed, yet many young people in the UK are still facing similar issues of unemployment, unaffordable living costs and crazy tuition fees which caused protests and riots back in 2010. There is certainly a lot of resonance today.
Have you seen any of these five films? How did you like them?