Great Britain

THE 1960s AND 1970s

The year 1960 saw the release of Michael Powell's Peeping Tom , a film in which serial killer Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) films his female victims, hoping to capture the expression of fear at the moment of their deaths. The film's addressing of issues such as voyeurism and sexuality, and its somewhat sympathetic portrayal of the killer, led to a harsh critical backlash against it; quite abruptly, the film all but ended Powell's career. Revisionist critics have hailed Peeping Tom as a disturbing masterpiece that cleverly addresses the voyeuristic impulses that drive cinema itself. Critical response aside, the film indicates that British cinema was not devoted solely to social realism. Boehm's Mark Lewis was one of a number of cinematic anti-heroes found in 1960s British cinema. Michael Caine's title character in Alfie (1966), a carefree womanizer, was another, earning him an Academy Award ® nomination.

The more positive response to Alfie may also have been part of a more open discussion of sexuality that was part of the dramatic social upheaval of the 1960s and points to the "swinging London" image that appeared in the latter half of the decade. A crucial musical influence on this era were The Beatles, and the overt adoration of them by their female fans has been considered by some commentators as one of the aspects of the sexual revolution. The Beatles were the focus of two films, A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965), both directed by Richard Lester (b. 1932), and an animated feature, Yellow Submarine (1968), directed by George Dunning. The Lester films became a cultural phenomenon, particularly A Hard Day's Night , which combined the kinetic filming style and rapid-fire humor of the Carry On films with location shooting and other aspects of social realism.

While British popular cinema incorporated a range of styles throughout the 1960s, social realism was still significant during the entire decade as some of the young filmmakers to emerge in the late 1950s continued to mature in their work. Lindsay Anderson followed up on his 1950s Free Cinema documentaries with two key 1960s features. This Sporting Life (1963) starred Richard Harris (1930–2002) as a troubled rugby player. The film was shot in the area around Wakefield, Yorkshire, and Anderson's use of location and the authenticity in his evocation of working-class life makes this one of the most significant of the New Wave films. With If. … (1968), Anderson seemed to capture the zeitgeist. The figure of Malcolm McDowell (b. 1943) as a well-armed schoolboy atop the roof of the Cheltenham school (Anderson's own alma mater) offered a memorable image in a year rocked by student uprisings in the Western world. The impact of social realism was also evident in Ken Loach's (b. 1936) critically and commercially successful Kes (1969), the story of a working-class boy whose grim future prospects are alleviated as he gains personal satisfaction in learning to train and fly a kestrel. This was only Loach's second feature film, the first being Poor Cow (1967), but he had honed his skills working in television, making a number of films for BBC's The Wednesday Play . Loach's television success indicated the important role television was to have in nurturing British filmmakers. Numerous British films that were made for television saw theatrical release in other countries, even when they received no, or very limited, theatrical release in Britain. This has remained the case even with more recent Loach films such as The Navigators (2001), a drama focused on the plight of laborers within Britain's privatized railway system.

The 1970s have been viewed critically as yet another period of crisis within British cinema. Attendances continued to drop, Hollywood influence was significant, and the innovation and promise of the New Wave was becoming an increasingly distant memory. Yet there was still innovation and controversy too as censorship restrictions were further relaxed, opening up debates around the influence of cinema on society. One director who was clearly caught in this crossfire was Stanley Kubrick (1928–1999). Although American-born, Kubrick had taken up residence in the UK in order to make his films far from the reach of meddling studio heads. A Clockwork Orange (1971), Kubrick's adaptation of Anthony Burgess's novel, became a controversial touchstone for debates over cinema censorship and regulation. When a number of local authorities opted to ban the film after alleged "copycat attacks" mimicking the film's ultraviolent youth, Kubrick withdrew it from the British market. A unique quirk in the British regulatory system allows films that have approval from the British Board of Film Classification to be rejected by local authorities, as was the case with A Clockwork Orange and more recently, Canadian David Cronenberg's Crash (1996). An earlier controversy had erupted around The Devils (1971), directed by Ken Russell. Russell had already made cuts to appease the censorship board, but the film was still banned by a number of local authorities. Russell's tendency toward graphic cinematic displays made him one of the most notorious and interesting figures of the era. The reputation he had garnered for films such as Women in Love (1969), his adaptation of D. H. Lawrence's novel, and The Music Lovers (1970), which focused on the sex life of the composer Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky and his wife, was cemented with the release of The Devils . This seemed to inspire Russell to pursue extravagance, such that his later films like Lisztomania (1975) and Valentino (1977) seem almost to be parodies of his earlier works, courting further controversy.

Another controversial figure was Nicolas Roeg (b. 1928), whose work was notably graphic at times but also, in structure, decidedly anticommercial and confrontational. Roeg first made a splash with Performance (1970), co-directed with Donald Cammell. The film follows a gangster on the run from the mob who takes refuge in the home of a reclusive rock star, played by Mick Jagger. Increasingly, the identities of the two men become blurred, both narratively and visually, as the film works constantly to disorient the spectator. Roeg's first solo film as director was Walkabout (1971), which follows three children lost in the Australian outback. This was followed by the taut psychological horror, Don't Look Now (1973), perhaps best remembered for its graphic conclusion. Roeg's later films have been somewhat uneven, and as is the case with Russell, he has had difficulty recapturing the level of critical acclaim he had enjoyed earlier in his career.

The ensemble crew of Monty Python also courted trouble with censorship bodies, particularly for parodying

the story of Christ in Life of Brian (1979). The film used the story of Brian, whose life parallels that of Christ, to provide typical "Monty Python" humor as it had been developed in their sketch television show, Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969–1974). The troupe's first cinematic effort, And Now for Something Completely Different (1971), directed by Ian McNaughton, is a compilation of their television work. With Terry Jones as director, the troupe became more ambitious and cinematic by tying its unique brand of comedy to narrative, first in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974), which was co-directed by Terry Gilliam; then Life of Brian ; and finally Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983). The troupe employed absurdist humor, which at times could be quite graphic, as part of a broader satire of contemporary British society and mass culture more generally.

b. Birkenhead, England, 9 May 1936

Glenda Jackson received her training at the Royal Academy for Dramatic Art and commenced a stage career in 1957. Her first major stage success was her performance as Charlotte Corday in Marat/Sade , a 1964 production by Peter Brook's Theatre of Cruelty; she recreated the role in the 1967 film version of the play. Jackson's intensity in her roles in the films of Ken Russell, which at the time pushed boundaries in popular cinema, brought her attention and admiration. She won her first Academy Award ® for Best Actress for her portrayal of Gudrun Brangwen in Russell's controversial adaptation of the D. H. Lawrence novel Women in Love (1969). She later portrayed Brangwen's mother, Anna, in Russell's adaptation of Lawrence's The Rainbow (1989).

Jackson gave a memorable performance, displaying intense physicality and sexuality, as Tchaikovsky's nymphomaniac wife in Russell's The Music Lovers (1970), yet she was also adept at comedy, winning her second Oscar ® for her performance in Melvin Frank's A Touch of Class (1973) alongside George Segal. In a memorable television role, Jackson cut a stunning figure by shaving her head to play Queen Elizabeth I in the BBC television miniseries Elizabeth R (1971), for which she won two Emmy Awards.

It is Jackson's repeated portrayals of strong women that helped make her stand out from among her contemporaries. Her theatrical training is evident in her willingness to devote herself wholly to each role she plays. In addition to her Emmy and Academy Award ® honors, Jackson has been nominated for Broadway's Tony Awards on four separate occasions. Other honors include being named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1978 and having a theatre named in her honor in Birkenhead. Jackson's film career was preempted by her move into politics in 1992, when she became a member of Parliament for Hampstead and Highgate in London. She ran unsuccessfully for the position of mayor of London in 2000 but remains active in Labour Party politics. In May 2005 she was reelected MP for the fourth time.


Marat/Sade (1967), Women in Love (1969), The Music Lovers (1970), A Bequest to the Nation (also known as The Nelson Affair , 1973), Hedda (1975), Turtle Diary (1985), The Rainbow (1989)


Woodward, Ian. Glenda Jackson: A Study in Fire and Ice . London: St. Martin's Press, 1985.

Scott Henderson

The 1970s also witnessed a rise in art cinema with directors such as Derek Jarman (1942–1994) and Sally Potter (b. 1949) emerging. Jarman had been a set designer on Russell's The Devils . His first series of features were all low-budget affairs shot on Super 8mm. Sebastiane (1976), co-directed with Paul Humfress, was notable for its portrayal of homosexual desire as it traced the martyrdom of St. Sebastian. Jarman's work was known for its anachronistic flourishes, evident in Jubilee (1977), which captures the punk ethos in its exploration of Queen Elizabeth II's jubilee year as seen through the eyes of Queen Elizabeth I and her astrologer magician, John Dee. Jarman followed this with The Tempest (1979), adapted from Shakespeare, although Jarman's most noted work is likely the beautifully shot Caravaggio (1986). Jarman's eye for the beautiful is also evident in The Last of England (1988), which saw him return to the Super 8mm format in an effort to visually depict the rot he perceived to be at the core of Thatcher's England.

Glenda Jackson in The Romantic Englishwoman (Joseph Losey, 1975).

Potter's Thriller (1979) was a short film written, directed, edited, and produced by Potter herself with funding from the Arts Council of Great Britain. Potter consistently challenges viewers and has been a particular favorite of feminist critics for her willingness to deconstruct the masculine values of cinema. The success of Thriller permitted Potter the opportunity to make her first feature, The Gold Diggers (1983). She did work for television through much of the 1980s before returning to the screen with the ambitious Orlando (1992), starring Tilda Swinton (b. 1960). Orlando adapts the Virginia Woolf novel and updates it to the 1990s as it follows its lead character through four hundred years of history (including a sex change) in its episodic exploration of social and gender roles. Potter has continued to work within mainstream art cinema with The Tango Lesson (1997); The Man Who Cried (2000), which featured Johnny Depp; and Yes (2004).

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