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The Life I’ve Got: Favourite British Bleak Films

Made in Britain

Trevor blows cigarette smoke in Peter's face
Trevor (Tim Roth) blows smoke in the system’s face…

What do we make in Britain? Mechanical parts, pottery, entertainment. We also make angry, disillusioned young men (and women), disgusted at the stacked deck against them but with no means or ability to express this outside of sheer wanton destructive behaviour. This is the world Made in Britain presents to us during the raging class wars and poverty of Thatcher’s ’80s.

Writer David Leland pulls off the difficult trick of making a character who is actually quite morally repugnant and yet, by his helplessness in the face of the system above, actually manages to engender sympathy from the audience. The violence of the put upon individual against the brutality of the system is an equation that will only yield a negative response. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Trevor (played by Tim Roth) is a teenage skinhead, with a wild-eyed stare, incomplete schooling, zero prospects, not to mention a criminal record as long as your arm. He steals, fights, and engages in racist antagonism of the local Asian community. He has zero respect for the system or indeed anyone around him. He puts a brick through a job centre window because he is told to wait in the queue for help. Unfortunately, that queue in the eighties was so long for so little work, there was little help for anyone. Hence the brick. Hence the judge sending him to a Residential Assessment Centre whilst they determine his fate. It’s jail time without jail. It’s the classic English tactic of hoping the problem will just go away. It won’t. It never does.

What is particularly sad about this scenario as explored in Made in Britain is that there are people in the Assessment Centre who do want to help Trevor. After kicking a chef in the balls because he returned to the centre late and missed his lunch, Trevor is at risk of being removed altogether from the centre. But the deputy superintendent, Peter, refuses to give up and genuinely appears to want help Trevor. He promises to take Trevor banger racing if he promises to behave, which Trevor accepts on the grounds he can drive. Trevor acquits himself well on the track and is told by Peter that if the proper training was arranged, Trevor could give up stealing cars and become a professional racer instead.

Here is Trevor being offered a golden opportunity to get a foot into the doorway of something he enjoys and that could actually lead to a career. You’d think he’d jump at the chance. But no, he stares blankly out the window, has no reply. The trip and the opportunity has done nothing to ease up his contempt.

You see, regardless of the opportunity, it has still come from a system that does its best to categorise, brutalise and anesthetise the working class in the name of class division. We see this when Trevor and another lad Errol break into the Centre’s office and read (and urinate upon) the judgements that are made upon them without their knowledge. Whilst their lives are at the mercy of a cold, bureaucratic system, Trevor will take nothing from them that is offered, only what is against their will: livelihoods, possessions etc.

Here is Trevor’s fight and here is where he will lose. Made in Britain portrays a system that will always come first, will always dominate the individual, will always keep its power. And it’s not demonstrated through some Orwellian chicanery, but rather one simple act of violence. Trevor finds his deeds catching up with him and is locked away in a cell at the local police station. He can’t resist giving the supervising PC there more of his lip. But the PC has a swift rebuttal: a truncheon across the knee at full pelt. “You think you’re hard, don’t you”? the PC asks a shocked and agonised Trevor. “There’s two things you’re going to learn! At home, at school, at work, in the street, you will respect authority and you will obey the rules, just like everybody else! That’s discipline! Most kids know that by the time they reach your age. Shut it! And keep it shut!”

But we know Trevor can’t keep it shut. And we know what the system will do to him in return. And therein lies the bleakness.

What do you think? Are there any great British Bleak Films I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!

Chris Flackett

Written by Chris Flackett

Chris Flackett is a writer for 25YL who loves Twin Peaks, David Lynch, great absurdist literature and listens to music like he's breathing oxygen. He lives in Manchester, England with his beautiful wife, three kids and the ghosts of Manchester music history all around him.

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