80s get in the frame

Best of British - British Cinema in the 1980s. First Edition
May 26, 2000

Best of British , first published in 1983, has long been a popular and accessible text for examining the relationship between cinematic and social history. This new edition adds chapters on cinema's depiction of the police, starting with Basil Dearden's The Blue Lamp (1950); on the significance of the British "New Wave" of 1959-1963; and on Scandal , Michael Caton-Jones's 1989 treatment of the events leading to John Profumo's resignation from the government in 1963. The revisionist mythologising that this film gave rise to among right-wing politicians and journalists is briefly covered. A final chapter gives cultural historians, teachers and students very useful advice on further, more detailed reading.

John Hill's new book is similarly about the relationship between British cinema and its political, economic, social and cultural context. Focusing on a single decade, it is inevitably more detailed, and is one of the few texts to analyse the effects of the Thatcher government on British cinema (as opposed to other parts of the mass media and the arts). Hill is strong on the ironies of how government economic policies unwittingly helped stimulate the production of films that were hostile to prevailing ideologies, and of how indirect government support (particularly though Channel 4 and British Screen) gave the film industry a measure of stability. He clearly identifies the "delicate ecology" between film and television that first became evident during the 1980s.

The book's principal concern, however, is the ways in which class, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and regionalism all contribute to a "fluid, hybrid and plural sense of the complexities of Britishness". Hill examines films that had a preoccupation with England's past - heritage films, the Raj revival, and productions such as Dance with a Stranger , set in the supposedly stable, optimistic 1950s. He contrasts them with "state-of-the-nation" films by Lindsay Anderson, Derek Jarman, Richard Eyre, Mike Leigh, Stephen Frears and Ken Loach: film-makers concerned with the present, indignant about the social tensions that were resulting from the spread of Thatcherite policies and culture. He concludes with strong sections on the representation of women, on the decline of the working class, and in particular on the diverse responses of emerging black film-makers to the mood of the decade. It is a key text for anyone interested in the complexities of national identity and of how and why the pace of change of British society has picked up over the past 20 years.

Paul Howson is director of film and television, British Council.

Best of British: Cinema and Society from 1930 to the Present. First Edition

Author - Anthony Aldgate and Jeffrey Richards
ISBN - 1 86064 288 8
Publisher - Tauris
Price - £12.95
Pages - 262

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