British Cinema: Social Realism – Webliography
This page functions as a portal into the important strand of British filmmaking described as social realist. Laid out chronologically this portal will be particularly useful for:
* Those unfamiliar with the history of the British cinema
* Students following undergraduate film studies course to provide an overview before tackiling more in depth work
* 'A' level media students following the current (2006 /07) OCR Media A2 Unit on Media Issues & Debates: Contemporary British Cinema. For the OCR unit it will historically contextualise the continuing use of social realism as a successful film form
* The WJEC Film Studies A level "British & Irish Cinema" Unit.
Social realism has played an important role in both British cinema and TV. The British documentary movement which developed under the leadership of John Grierson was enormously influential in stimulating what became a strand of fiction film described as social realism.
Humphrey Jennings who started out with this movement brought a sense of the surreality of popular culture in everyday life to his work. His wartime docu-dramas and documentary work are exemplary pieces of art working across genres to produce some of the best work ever made by a British director.
Jennings was an inspiration to Lindsay Anderson and those who gathered around him in the British 'Free Cinema'. Technical discoveries by cameraman Walter Lassally were to influence the work of the French New Wave Filmmakers and cinematographers.
The documentary work made by them led into the 'British New Wave' at the beginning of the 1960s.
This in turn led to social realist films and TV documentaries in the mid to late sixties with Ken Loach and Producer Tony Garnett being exemplary. Cathy Come Home was a TV drama which heldped the housing charity Shelter to set up. Poor Cow and Kes are classic Loach films from this period.
While the 1970s and 1980s saw less work of this style films such as Meantime by Mike Leigh were very influential. The actor Gary Oldman was outstanding in this and returned to this form as a director in Nil by Mouth made in the late 1990s.
There was a return to popularity for this kind of film in the 1990s particularly by Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. This has continued up until 2006 with Ken Loach winning the Palm d'or at the Cannes festival for The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006) combining social realism with history.
Brtish social realism has also been strongly influential in other types of films which have combined genres into hybrids such as social-realist / comedy. The Full Monty (1997) and Brassed Off (1996) are good examples of this. Perhaps the first hybrid of this type was Billy Liar (1963) at the end of the British New Wave. This film provided a bridge into the 'Swinging Sixties' particularly in the next film by John Schlesinger Darling which starred Julie Christie as well.
The BFI "Screenonline article on comedy" cites several films which also appear elsewhere as social realistically inflected. Films dealing with changing British identity often combine social realist aspects of life with comedy including East is East (1999) and Bend it Like Beckham (2002).
Webliography laid out chronologically
This covers the British documentary movement and via Free Cinema moves into British Social Realism
BFI Screenonline Biography of Paul Rotha
Links previously on this page are now on the above page plus many more. The page is still under development and further links to analysies of his films are in the pipeline.
From Lindsay Anderson to the Free Cinema
The Impact and Influence of Social Realism in British Cinema a useful Screenonline article.
Tony Aldgate of the Open University discusses British Social Realism
Social Realists in British Cinema from 1990
These two directors have a reputation for working mainly within the social realist tradition although the approaches are still very different. Loach tends to be more macro whilst Leigh is more micro with a style closer to Kammerspiele or chamber plays.
Other British Directors who have used social realism
These directors have made films at times which have been strongly influenced by social realism:
Stephen Frears with Dirty Pretty Things, 2002
Lynne Ramsey Ratcatcher
Michael Winterbottom Welcome to Sarajevo (1998) is a social realist influenced film based upon a true story. His recent The Road to Guantanamo (2006) is a political response to the events and aftermath of 9/11.
Some Social Realist Films From 1990
Life is Sweet, 1990: Mike Leigh. It is marketed as a 'bittersweet comedy" which is quite a good description of many of the social realist / comedy hybrid films
Raining Stones, 1993: Dir Ken Loach
Nil by Mouth 1997: dir Gary Oldman
Authors of British Social Realist Films
Here is a link to Alan Sillitoe author of Saturday Night Sunday Morning commenting recently on the coming ban on smoking in public places