As seen most recently in ACMI's Dissenters, Lovers and Ghosts season, British cinema is heading in the right direction in regards to representation. But progress is slow. Following on from this season, here are a selection of films that continue the conversation around the treatment and perceptions of marginalised people in the UK, that also reflect issues of race, gender, sexuality, ability and class inequalities in all societies around the world.
Blending truth and sentimental fiction, Matthew Warchus’ colourful film, set in 1984 during the Thatcher era, tells the tale of the unlikely union of Welsh miners on strike and proudly out Londoners. The gay and lesbian activists posit that they and the miners share a common enemy in Britain’s prime minister, and so, decide to raise money to support the miner’s families. They end up in Onllwyn in the Dulais valley, Wales; but the small town’s Union don’t immediately accept their support.
Pride is about changing mindsets, uncovering prejudices and creating human connections. Like Billy Elliot (2000), it combines a sweet charm with a darker reality. The film touches on important LGBTQI+ issues such as the misinformation around AIDS in the 80s with a charmingly British slant. It also features a great cast, including Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton.
I, Daniel Blake (2016)
In Ken Loach's "battle cry for the dispossessed", a middle-aged, blue collar carpenter – the titular Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) – suffers a heart attack leaving him unable to work. When he's wrongfully denied Employment and Support Allowance, he's forced to navigate an opaque British benefits system to lodge an online appeal, despite lacking any computer literacy. Thrust in a similar position of helplessness, Katie (Hayley Squires), a single mother, moves into a homeless shelter with her children, and strikes up a friendship with Daniel.
Johns and Squires deliver powerful performances in this scathing indictment of heartless bureaucracies, flawlessly articulating the sense of dejection and anger, but also resilience, of those who fall – or are pushed – through the cracks.
Stud Life (2012)
Selected for BFI’s 2012 London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, Campbell X's moving rom-com debut sets the benchmark in queer British films that focus on unconventional, not-always-romantic love, and London’s vibrant underground LGBTQI+ scene.
Stud Life follows JJ (the excellent T’Nia Miller – you might recognise her as Mrs. Grose in the 2020 Netflix series, The Haunting of Bly Manor), a lesbian, who works as a wedding photographer with Seb (Kyle Treslove), her gay best friend. The pair’s relationship is tested when JJ falls in love with a new woman.
Then Barbara Met Alan (2022)
Bruce Goodison and Amit Sharma’s biopic tells the story of two disabled cabaret artists whose campaigns for disabled rights culminated in the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 for the UK. Barbara Lisicki and Alan Holdsworth met in 1989 and would go on to be the driving force behind Disabled People’s Direct Action Network, a group that brings disability rights into the light through protests and rallies.
Mixing archival footage and reconstructions, and featuring stunning performances by Ruth Madeley and Arthur Hughes, this BBC special highlights how British society in the 90s casually and systematically, and with no legal repercussions, discriminated against people with disabilities. It also illuminates what progress has been made and still needs to be made today. As well as depicting everyday moments of discrimination – in the workplace, on public transport – Then Barbara Met Alan received a loving reception from the disabled community for its nuanced and realistically portrayed sex scene between Hughes and Madeley.
Sorry We Missed You (2019)
The second Ken Loach film on this list focuses on a family struggling to keep their heads above water in the aftermath of the 2008 Global Financial Crash. Ricky (Kris Hitchen) is given the opportunity to run a franchise as a delivery driver, but his new job requires a van, which comes at the expense of the family car used by his wife Abbey (Debbie Honeywood) in her job as a carer. The couple face mounting pressures as the strain of their jobs begin to take a toll, compounded by their son Seb's (Rhys Stone) delinquency.
Sorry We Missed You is a no frills depiction of the lives of working people suffocated by debt and plagued by misfortune, and as Reece Goodwin (ACMI) wrote in 2019: "as an audience member you’ll most likely be complicit in some way, so be prepared to delete your Uber Eats app, post-film."
This is England (2006)
Set in the early 80s somewhere in the Midlands, Shane Meadows’ This is England depicts an era in the UK when skinheads, a subculture whose roots are in Caribbean culture and music, were slowly being infiltrated and co-opted by white nationalists. Our protagonist is 13-year-old Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), who is ingratiated into a gang of young skinheads – each member as colourful as the next, with names like 'Lol', 'Milky' and 'Smell' – that splits when the sociopathic 'Combo' (played by a menacing Stephen Graham) returns on the scene after serving a prison sentence.
Meadows’ sympathetic film shines a light on young working-class people stuck in cycles of abuse inflicted by their government (Thatcher again) and their parents. It’s a harrowing yet essential watch.
The Last Tree (2019)
Nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, Shola Amoo’s semi-autobiographical feature focuses on a young boy caught between different mothers and backgrounds. Femi (Samuel Adewunmi), a British boy of Nigerian heritage, enjoys a happy childhood in rural England where he is raised by his white foster mother Mary (Denise Black) — until his birth mother Yinka (Gbemisola Ikumelo) reclaims him and deposits him into a much different life in her small inner-London flat. With little emotional bond to his biological mother and no remembrance of their cultural heritage, Femi struggles to adapt.
Featuring stunning cinematography evocative of Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, The Last Tree ponders on what it means to be a young, black male in modern Britain.