The Last of England: Thatcherism and British Cinema
4 Apr – 25 Jun 2014
Gallery of Modern Art
The social, economic and political life of the United Kingdom under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1925–2013) provides a backdrop to this major survey of British cinema. Exploring the idea of Thatcherism as a broad set of beliefs and practices that emerged from the Conservative government's policies of the day, 'The Last of England: Thatcherism and British Cinema' considers how filmmakers revealed their effects in every facet of contemporary life.
The program takes its name from the influential film and book The Last of England 1987 (republished as Kicking the Pricks in 1997) by artist, filmmaker and activist Derek Jarman (1942–94), which lament the decline of the United Kingdom during the 1980s. For Jarman, his personal exploration of queerness and history was a radical response to changes occurring in British society. Jarman's filmography forms the backbone to the program, bracketing the years in which Thatcher was leader of the Conservative party (1975–79) and her unprecedented three-term premiership from 1979 to 90. In tribute to his extraordinary contribution to British filmmaking and twentieth anniversary of his death, the program begins with a complete retrospective of Jarman's feature films alongside his rarely seen Super-8 montage films, shorts and music videos.
'The Last of England' then moves through a series of thematic programs that each explore subjects relating to the Thatcher years: The Spirit of '45 evokes life in postwar Britain; The British Are Coming features Thatcher-era costume dramas; Another Time, Another Place delves into a darker vision of life in science-fiction; Addressing the Nation highlights the influential role of television; Eat the Rich deals with greed and the social realities of a free-market economy; For Queen and Country explores the intersecting of violence, nationalism and the military; and Collective Action surveys the influential British Workshop movement from the late 1970s and 80s.
Thatcher on the Radio Pre-cinema music throughout the program includes a selection of songs responding to Margaret Thatcher:
Reprise (1986): The Communard Stand Down Margaret (1980): The English Beat Maggie Maggie Maggie (Out Out Out) (1985): The Larks Kick Out The Tories (1982): Newtown Neurotics Which Side Are You On? (1987): Billy Bragg A Stones Throw Away (1985): The Style Council Black Boys on Mopeds (1990): Sinead O'Connor Ghost Town (1981): The Specials Thatcher's Fortress (1984): The Varukers Margaret's Injection (1989): Kitchens of Distinction I'm in Love with Margaret Thatcher (1979): The Not Sensibles (We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang (1981): Heaven 17 Between The Wars (1985): Billy Bragg No Government (1981): Anti-Pasti Shipbuilding (1983): Robert Wyatt How Does It Feel to Be the Mother of a Thousand Dead? (1986): Crass Maggie's Farm (1980): The Specials Thatcherites (1996): Billy Bragg Tramp the Dirt Down (1989): Elvis Costello Margaret on the Guillotine (1988): Morrissey The Day that Thatcher Dies (2000): Hefner (Celebrate) The Day After You (1987): The Blow Monkeys ft Curtis Mayfield
This program would not have been possible without the assistance of our Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film partners who have generously provided materials for this program: British Film Institute (Fleur Buckley, George Watson) and National Film and Sound Archive Australia (Charles Slaats). Special Thanks to James Mackay (Basilisk Communications); Isaac Julien; Andy Kimpton-Nye; Evi Tsiligaridou (Filmhouse Cinema); Peter Langs (Universal Films); and Graham Fulton (Park Circus). 'The Last of England: Thatcherism and British Cinema' was curated by José Da Silva, Australian Cinémathèque. Film notes have been adapted from British Film Institute entries published on Screenonline. Full citations of synopsis and production information are linked with each film note. All other film notes and quotes as indicated.
List of Works
The Spirit of '45
'The Spirit of '45' evokes aspects of life in Britain before Thatcher. While varied in their approach, the films introduce a sense of despair and decline that preceded the Tory victory in 1979. Ken Loach's documentary makes a defining statement, considering Labour Prime Minster Clement Attlee's postwar reforms to national industries, health, housing and education that were eroded during Thatcher's terms.
Wish You Were Here 1987 | Director: David Leland
Withnail and I 1987 | Director: Bruce Robinson
Distant Voices, Still Lives 1988 | Director: Terence Davies
Young Soul Rebel 1991 | Director: Isaac Julien
The Spirit of '45 2013 | Director: Ken Loach
The Stuart Hall Project 2013 | Director: John Akomfrah
The British are Coming
'The British are Coming' features Thatcher-era costume dramas that reflect on ideas of nationhood and the renaissance of English culture, as well stories of individual achievement, generational difference and a rebellion against social convention. The title was the media slogan propagated after Chariots of Fire scriptwriter Colin Wellands used the phrase at the 54th Academy Awards.
Chariots of Fire 1981 | Director: Hugh Hudson
The Draughtsman's Contract 1982 | Director: Peter Greenaway
Another Country 1984 | Director: Marek Kanievska
A Room with a View 1985 | Director: James Ivory
Maurice 1987 | Director: James Ivory
Another Time, Another Place
'Another Place, Another Time' delves into a darker vision of life in the United Kingdom under totalitarian control, including landmark science-fiction films that draw on literature and graphic novels.
A Clockwork Orange 1971 | Director: Stanley Kubrick
Britannia Hospital 1982 | Director: Lindsay Anderson
Nineteen Eighty-Four 1984 | Director: Michael Radford
Brazil 1985 | Director: Terry Gilliam
V for Vendetta 2006 | Director: James McTeigue
Addressing the Nation
'Addressing The Nation' highlights the influential role of television at the time with a selection of films funded by leading broadcaster Channel 4, contentious documentaries made for ITV and one of the most celebrated television serials screened on the BBC.
A Question of Leadership 1981 | Director: Ken Loach
Which Side Are You On? 1984 | Director: Ken Loach
Boys from the Blackstuff 1982 | Director: Philip Saville
My Beautiful Laundrette 1985 | Director: Stephen Frears
High Hopes 1988 | Director: Mike Leigh
Bhaji on the Beach 1993 | Director: Gurinder Chadha
Naked 1993 | Director: Mike Leigh
Brassed Off 1996 | Director: Mark Herman
Trainspotting 1996 | Director: Danny Boyle
For Queen and Country
'For Queen and Country' brings together films exploring violence, nationalism and the military. It features stories concerning skinhead culture, the Northern Ireland freedom movement and fallout from the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas War with Argentina.