Gilbey on Film: Tory Britain on screen

Our critic picks five films that evoke the spirit of Thatcherism.

Watching the new British film Sus ('Suspect under suspicion'), which is confined for its entirety to a police interview room, I averaged a wince every few minutes. It had nothing to do with the picture's forgivable deficiencies, which fall into two camps: when the director Robert Heath isn't displaying an exaggerated fidelity to the theatrical origins of Barrie Keefe's screenplay, he's trying too hard to shake them off. (In one scene, the camera makes so many 360° turns that it feels like we're trapped on a Waltzer, and the oily-quiffed operator has dozed off.) No, the source of my discomfort was also the reason why the film is being released this year, this month, this week: the action takes place through the evening of 3 May and into the morning of 4 May 1979.

Two white DSIs, Karn (Ralph Brown) and Wilby (Rafe Spall) are betting on the outcome of the general election. Karn has backed "the Thatch" and is all hopped-up on the prospect of what he keeps referring to as the new dawn. "A little bird tells me she's quite the admirer of policemen," he gloats. Every time the men have cause to leave the room where they are trying to pin a murder on their black prisoner, Leon Delroy (Clint Dyer), they return with further news of Labour's losses. Although their manner is aggressively theatrical to a Berkoffian degree, they embody a recognisable 1970s/1980s mindset -- the more abrasive side, in other words, of cuddly Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) from Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. I suspect that it is the snarling parochialism of Karn and Wilby that Labour was trying to evoke with its unsuccessful David-Cameron-as-Gene-Hunt poster campaign.

It's a decent movie, and Keefe has already proved with his script for The Long Good Friday (written around the same time as Sus) that he can drop a Thatcherite at 40 paces. But the most pungent reminder in Sus of the horrors of Conservative Britain comes in the opening credits montage, accompanied by the Specials performing "It's Up to You." As a suave-looking David Dimbleby heralds "one of the most exciting election nights ever," and Robin Day reminds us that "it's not a horse race -- it's a human drama and a night of history", we see footage from a National Front march, with its "Don't Knock Enoch" banners, and an excerpt from the dubious sitcom Love Thy Neighbour. (The show actually ended in 1976, but we'll let that pass; there were plenty of repeats in the 1970s, and at least the continuity announcers didn't make out they were doing us a favour by saying, "Here's another chance to see...").

Sus would have worked much better had it been released a few weeks ago. Goodness knows how it is going to look when it reaches cinemas on Friday, when it will be too late to function as a warning or deterrent to anyone considering signing up to the Cult of Dave. (The best we can hope, in the event that the Tories are kept out, is that audiences will be able to watch it and think: "Phew -- that was close.") But should you have forgotten the putrid stench that is "essence of Tory Britain", or if you are too young to remember it, then any one of the following films should bring it flooding back:

Meantime (1983)

Mike Leigh's unbearably sad portrait of an east London working-class family, and the Chigwell-dwelling relatives with delusions of mobility, is one of his most eloquent works. With scorching early performances from Tim Roth and Gary Oldman, who can also be seen in...

Made in Britain (1983)/ The Firm (1989)

In the former, Roth is a violent but palpably intelligent skinhead who has been left to fester in the margins of Thatcher's Britain; in the latter, Oldman is an estate agent with a sideline in soccer hooliganism. Alan Clarke, Britain's foremost chronicler back in the days when it really was broken, directed both.

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989)

Cannibalism, sexual humiliation and costumes by Jean-Paul Gaultier make this one of Peter Greenaway's most superficially extreme works; at its heart is Michael Gambon's towering performance as the gluttonous kingpin who is the embodiment of sadistic Thatcherism.

Bloody Kids (1979)/ Close My Eyes (1991)

Two Stephen Poliakoff scripts bookending the Thatcher era. Bloody Kids, directed by Stephen Frears, details the consequences of a schoolboy prank-gone-wrong; its depiction of a feral England would give Mad Max pause. Close My Eyes, which Poliakoff directed, situates a brother-sister love affair against a backdrop of Docklands developments, Home Counties complacency and Aids.

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

When I think of growing up under the Tories, this film conjures the mood of dread as well as anything by Leigh, Clarke or Frears. But for all the gore on show, there's nothing as gruesome here as the prospect of another Conservative government.


Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war