A History of Working Class Cinema – Danny Leigh review by Denise Hobart

Written by: Denise Hobart

‘What I’m out for is a good time. All the rest is propaganda’

This was a really informative and stimulating journey through almost a century of the representation of the working
class in British film, neatly putting each film into context with its time in social history. The event, hosted by Abi
Standish from Cinema for All and co curated by DocFest, used some fascinating clips to illustrate this story, from
Hitchcock’s 1927 Blackmail to Joe Cornish’s 2011 Attack the Block, via Albert Finney’s only film as a director, Charlie
Bubbles. How did I not know about this Shelagh Delany penned gem co-starring Finney himself with a young Liza
Minelli?! The tale of a boy done good and his struggle to belong when revisiting his roots in a derelict 60s Salford,
has gone straight to the top of the watchlist.

The evening built a picture of: busy kitchen tables in tatty, cramped housing; working class sacrifice; women’s stories
beginning to be told from something other than a male prism; ghettoization with crime; emergence as consumers;
the awareness, anger and frustration at being treated differently; university education and the new opportunities it
offered and the resistance to this change from the upper classes; loss of identity; development and gentrification
leading to the obliteration of living spaces; harassment of young black boys and men; ownership of stories; arts
funding and a dearth of opportunity when it is taken away.

Danny Leigh offered some personal insight to his own family history. Leigh’s father was brought up in a bike shop
opposite a filming location for Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and his own childhood was partly spent in West
London, which gives films like Charlie Bubbles, Babylon and The Long Good Friday a personal resonance to him and
this came across clearly in his passion and knowledge of the subject.

There was a thought-provoking post presentation discussion about the bleak current and future opportunities for
working-class voices in British cinema. With the verdict being that the doors smashed open in the late 50s and early
60s were effectively now boarded up, it wasn’t all gloom and doom: Leigh pointed to examples like Rapman, who
had a huge Youtube success with Shiro’s Story and festival screenings leading to Paramount and BBC Films funding
for his first feature film Blue Story due for release this year. We closed with a clip from the DocFest Grand Jury Prize
winning A Syrian Love Story director Sean McAllister’s new documentary Northern Soul, introduced as demolishing
the pernicious untruth, that the white working class are racist.

‘We’re Bloody Marvellous’!
Some links to clips/trailers for films included in discussion:
Blackmail (d Alfred Hitchcock, 1927)
It Always Rains on Sunday (d Robert Hamer, 1947)
Dancehall (d Charles Crichton, 1950)
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (d Karel Reisz, 1960)
A Taste of Honey (d Tony Richardson, 1961)
The Servant (d Joseph Losey, 1963)
Charlie Bubbles (d Albert Finney, 1968)
The Long Good Friday (d John MacKenzie, 1980)
Babylon (d Franco Rosso, 1980)
Morven Callar (d Lynne Ramsay, 2002)
This is England (d Shane Meadows, 2006)
Attack the Block (Joe Cornish, 2011)
Blue Story (d Andrew Onwubolu aka Rapman, 2019)
Northern Soul (d Sean McAllister, 2019)

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