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Articulating anger
A region 0 DVD review of MADE IN BRITAIN from The Alan Clarke Collection by Slarek
 
"We're all fucking great. You ain't taking bugger all from us, we hate you.
You can lock me in here but you can't take away the hate inside my head,
I can still hate you in my head. You don't like that, do you."
Trevor – 'Made in Britain'

 

Back in the 70s there was a government sponsored attempt to boost British industry in the face of an increasing number of cheaper imported goods by prompting a patriotic approach to British buying habits. 'I'm Backing Britain' stickers could be found everywhere and Union Jack styled 'Made in Britain' labels adorned all manner of locally produced goods. At this point in our history, myself and many of my fellow countrymen had developed an uneasy relationship with our national flag, something even back then you would be pushed to find in many other countries. The Punk Generation were throwing off the whole concept of a sovereign family and wore tattered versions of the flag as a sign of their rejection of its supposed values. On top of that, the Union Jack had been hijacked by the far right as a symbol of their warped and bigoted definition of patriotism in the face of anything they deemed as 'not British'. It is these two representations of nationalism that are the springboard for David Leland's Made in Britain, one of four plays for television screened on consecutive weeks, written by Leland under the banner Tales Out of School and based around the theme of education. Of the four, this was without doubt the most controversial and confrontational. As directed by Alan Clarke, it also became the single most electrifying television work of the year.

After a court appearance for smashing an Asian shopkeeper's window, 16-year-old skinhead and habitual offender Trevor is taken to a residential assessment centre by his social worker, Harry. Although smarter than his behaviour suggests, Trevor is also aggressive, rebellious and racist, and from the moment he arrives he refuses to co-operate with those in whose charge he has been placed. In no time has landed himself in even deeper trouble with his increasingly frustrated guardians.

One thing that will strike any newcomer to Made in Britain right off the bat is that Trevor is about as far as you can get from your typical leading man. He is unlikable, violent, short-tempered, self-centered and childish, yet he is also intelligent, articulate and rebellious. As a character for cinematic study, he is fascinating – but for society at large he represents a major problem. Trevor does not so much kick against the rules as refuse to acknowledge that they apply to him at all, and if he does fall foul of them then he knows how to mess with the system, or at least he thinks he does. Like a spoilt child, Trevor is constantly demanding things – a meal, spending money, the attention of a job centre employee – and reacts instantly and aggressively if he does not immediately get his way. His racism is primitive, tribal and reactionary, a professed hatred for those who appear different to him and who have what he has not. Thus he throws a brick through the window of an asian shopkeeper, but given a room with a young black offender he immediately strikes up a conversation with him and later involves him in a number of illegal activities, including a further act of racially motivated vandalism. That he verbally abuses him and ultimately leaves him to take the rap when the two steal and crash a van from the assessment centre appears not to be racially driven – Trevor ultimately shits on just about everyone he meets and would doubtless have done the same had his companion been white. Trevor clearly likes to exercise power, and being on the bottom rung of the social ladder, the only way he knows how to do so is through direct and sometimes violent confrontation with others.

Hidden away behind this wall of anger, though, is an intelligence and reasoning that kicks against the usual skinhead stereotype. As is made clear in the brilliantly written and furiously delivered monologue from which the top quote is taken, Trevor has arrived at his present attitude not through blind stupidity but by a process of reactive reasoning. It is this that makes Trevor such a compelling character and makes the film itself so challenging, for while it's easy to warm to Trevor's rejection of authority and to understand his angry deconstruction of society's definition of honesty, the anarchy he represents is single-mindedly damaging and ultimately self-destructive. Having been told repeatedly that he is heading for a life in prison, he now accepts it as an inevitability but has no intention of going quietly – if he's going down, then he's going to do it his way. Trevor is undeniably charismatic and a powerful force for rebellion, but he is also a frightening and dangerous figure who cannot ultimately be left unchecked. In many ways he resembles Alex from A Clockwork Orange – both are violent, amoral young thugs whose intelligence and oddball charm makes them as interesting as they are worrying. But whereas Alex's immorality is safely distanced by the futuristic setting, his own poetic narration and Kubrick's stylised presentation of the characters and story, Trevor is all too real. He's the guy on the corner, down the street, next door; a product of Right Now. Trevor is most definitely Made in Britain – society created him and now doesn't know what to do with him, and it is inevitable that the film-makers have no answers to this question either. How could they? Like Alex, Trevor learns the hard way that no matter how tough you are, there is always someone tougher who will take you down, but unlike Alex he does not fall simply to rise again. Trevor is left facing a reality that he will either learn to survive or be destroyed by.

Made in Britain is extraordinary television. The sheer quality of writing in David Leland's script was rare even for its time but seems completely absent from TV today. Leland never tries to make Trevor likeable, but by giving him such a powerful voice he forces us to listen to viewpoints that we are deliberately made to feel uncomfortable by. Rarely does a film of any description dare to take on its audience on such difficult terms, feeding them with one hand and slapping them in the face with the other. It remains a difficult and confrontational work, but for all the right reasons.

Similarly uncompromising is Tim Roth's central performance as Trevor. Roth famously only got seen at all through a chance incident – a cycle tyre puncture led him to a youth theatre in which he had previously worked to borrow a pump, only to discover that auditions for the film were being held there the next day. He met Alan Clarke and sold himself for the part. It's genuinely impossible now to imagine the film without Roth at its centre – his performance as Trevor is nothing short of astonishing and is without doubt the key reason for Trevor's enigmatic screen presence. Everything is just right here, the snarled anger, the sarcastic sneering, the nitro-powered physicality – Roth plays Trevor as a ball of furious energy looking for a direction in which to explode, a missile with a message and a haphazard targeting system. There are times when you really, really want someone to slap some sense into him, but there is not one solitary second that you can take your eyes off him. When that slap finally comes, you're genuinely unsure about how to react to it.

With a central character this powerful and this well acted, it's a testament to the supporting cast that they are never overshadowed by Roth and all vividly register, in part because of the sincerity with which their parts are written and played. Unlike Roy Minton's script for Scum, which had a very specific viewpoint and in doing so cast the warders as almost unremittingly corrupt and unpleasant, Leland takes no sides here, and if the Assessment Centre staff and long-suffering social worker Harry seem both well-meaning and irritable then it's because they really are trying to help, but just do not know how to cope with someone like Trevor. Their frustration at him comes not from intollerence but from having to deal on a daily basis with difficult customers, of which Trevor is without doubt one of the most problematic, in part because he refuses to conform to their (and our) stereotype of an out-of-control young hooligan. Just about the only adult Trevor actually listens to (though he later angrily dismisses him and his teachings) is the centre's superintendent, who, in a beautifully written and performed scene, explains to Trevor in detail the chances he has blown and his future options. Unfussily shot, this is a sublime wedding of script and performance, an object lesson to the machine-gun-editing directors of so many modern mainstream movies in what really makes drama work.

Rounding it all off, of course, is Alan Clarke's direction. It was shortly before starting on Made in Britain that Clarke discovered Steadicam and for him this was clearly a moment of liberation, the crystallisation of the style that had been gradually emerging since Scum, one that locked on to the main character and stayed with them in a series of long 'walking shots'. This approach is set from opening scene, in which Trevor, in constant steadicam close-up, walks through a series of corridors to the courtroom in which he is to be charged, accompanied by the aggressive chords of The Exploited's UK82. It's one of my favourite opening shots ever, a perfect blending of image and sound that iconically introduces us to the main character and the essence of the narrative in a stunningly economic and cinematic way. The camera follows Trevor wherever he goes, and when Trevor moves he doesn't hang around, but here Clarke had an ace up his sleeve in the brilliant Chris Menges, a hugely talented DoP and one of the first UK cameraman to master the Steadicam. Menges locks in on Trevor and makes him the film's key concern at all times, reflecting the instruction to his camera operator that Clarke became famous for: "This is your man, go with him."

Alan Clarke was the ideal director to commit Leland's words to film, investing in the visuals and actors the same energy and intelligence that roars through the script. Made in Britain is an Alan Clarke film every bit as much as it is a David Leland film and a Tim Roth film and a Chris Menges film. It is that collaborative process that Clarke seemed to savour, and at his best it is not just Clarke's voice we hear but all of the voices in the film. Made in Britain – tough, smart, angry, difficult, electrifying and without peer to this day, is just such a work.

sound and vision

Made in Britain was not only one of the first British TV dramas to use Steadicam, it was also a front runner in its use of new, high-speed film stocks. The allowed Chris Menges to light locations almost exclusively with practicals (enhanced versions of lights that would be naturally be found in the scene), and the combination of this and the free-floating camera gave almost complete freedom for the actors. This faster film stock and naturalistic approach to lighting inevitably produces an image that is some way short of the crisp transfers we associate with bigger budget Hollywood movies, especially given that Made in Britain was shot on 16mm and that sets and costumes were selected specifically for their drabness. Given that, this is a most acceptable transfer of difficult source material, and given the subject matter this look actually works well for the film as a whole. There is a bare bones, budget-price region 2 disk already available of the film from Carlton, which boasts a very similar transfer to the one seen here, suggesting they were taken from the same source (the Carlton logo remains at the end of the Blue Underground print); there appears to be a fraction more artefact noise on the Carlton disk, though you really have to look for it. On transfer quality alone they are evenly matched – it's on the extras that the Blue Underground disk wins out. Both transfers are in the original 4:3 aspect ratio.

There's not much to say about the sound – it was clearly recorded, has been cleanly reproduced and is in its original mono.

A special mention should go to the menus, which have been executed with loving care, really capturing the flavour of the film and the essence of the time, though have more of a Sex Pistols punk feel than a skinhead 'Oi!' one. A particularly nice touch is the Doc Martin boot that comes in and shatters the main menu when you select the extras.

extra features

The region 2 Carlton disk boasts only a trailer, but again Blue Underground have excelled themselves and produced a disk that puts quality over quantity, resulting in a dream come true for hardcore fans of the film in the shape of two excellent commentary tracks. In the obvious absence of Clarke himself, the people who you would most want to hear from would be lead actor Tim Roth, producer Margaret Matheson and writer David Leland, and that's exactly who you get. Both tracks are hosted by David Gregory of Blue Underground, a UK native who appears to still reside here (he certainly knows more about the inside of Job Centres than ex-patriot Tim Roth) and is clearly a serious Clarke fan and a knowledgeable student of his work.

The first commentary track features Gregory and Tim Roth and is a consistently fascinating and informative listen, even for those, like myself, who have been following and reading about Clarke's work for some years. Roth provides some good background to his approach to the role and Clarke's working methods, as well as a nice selection of anecdotes: unable to drive at the time of filming, for example, his scenes behind the wheel were created by a combination of driving doubles (one of whom had to replace him in mid-shot when he disappears behind a van) and pulling his car with a rope. He also pays tribute to Clarke, for whom he was originally also supposed to do Contact and The Firm, as well as cameraman Chris Menges and actor Geoffrey Hutchings ("for me it was like a proper actor coming in"), who pretty much steals the film for ten minutes as the centre superintendent. Amusingly, this being his first film, Roth was under the impression that all films were shot on Steadicam and was actually rather startled the first time he encountered a camera bolted to a tripod. His admiration for a script that had an intelligent skinhead at its centre is balanced a little by his own childhood experience of skinheads, whom he describes as "horrendous people." He clearly had the time of his life making the film, not least because of Alan Clarke's sense of humour and relationship with the cast and crew, and describes the experience as "One of the best times I ever had as an actor.....I was in heaven."

The second commentary track features Margaret Matheson and writer David Leland. Both provide excellent background information on the production, including, in Leland's case, the research and thinking behind it. Leland has plenty to say and does tend to dominate (if that's the word – he never feels dominant, just more vocal), though Matheson makes some key contributions and takes issue with Leland when he complains, with some bitterness, that Clarke was only seen as a great director after he died. Rarely does the information supplied here overlap with that on the Roth commentary, and when it does it sometimes prompts a smile, as with Leland's certainty that Roth had done some of his own driving in the banger racing scene, only to later admit that he wasn't at that particular shoot. Both also pay tribute to Clarke, Geoffrey Hutchings (who Leland describes as "the kind of actor every director prays for") and Chris Menges, for whom this was apparently a "precious and important" film. Leland's own views on Trevor, whom he sees very much as a victim of the system, are also fascinating.

An Archive Interview with Tim Roth is just that, running at four minutes and containing a few clips from the film, though they are largely brief and often talked over. Though shot only four years ago for the Film Four documentary Alan Clarke: His Own Man, Roth still presents a slightly different perspective on the film and the character than found in the commentary, which makes it a valuable inclusion.

Poster and Stills Gallery has 11 stills (including a couple that appear to have been scanned in from Richard Kelly's book on Clarke, or a similar source), 2 DVD covers and a National Film Theatre programme cover. All are produced at a decent size and are real production stills, not frame grabs.

summary

For me Made in Britain is television at its finest, a film in which script, direction and performance are in perfect harmony and the audience is constantly challenged and made to work, but given all the rewards that naturally accompany first rate drama. It remains one of the finest achievements not just of its brilliant director, but of its equally talented writer, cameraman and lead actor, which is saying something when you consider the considerable body of work that this combination of talent represents. Central to Blue Underground's Alan Clarke Collection, it may be equalled by the UK release on picture and sound quality, but the two very fine commentary tracks make it once again a one-horse show. Full bloody marks again to a terrific box set.

Made in Britain
The Alan Clarke Collection

UK 1982
73 mins
director
Alan Clarke
starring
Tim Roth
Eric Richard
Geoffrey Hutchings
Terry Richards
Sean Chapman
Bill Stewart

DVD details
region 0
video
4:3 OAR
sound
Dolby 2.0 mono
languages
English
subtitles .
English
extras
Tim Roth Commentary
Margaret Matheson and David leland commentary
Archive interview with Tim Roth
Poster/Stills gallery
distributor
Blue Underground
release date
Out now
review posted
28 October 2004

The Alan Clarke Collection
Blue Underground's Alan Clarke Collection contains the following films. Click on a title for a detailed review of that film.
For and overview of the box set, click here.
Scum (BBC)
Scum (feature)
Made in Britain
Elephant
The Firm

related review
Tales Out of School

See all of Slarek's reviews