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Interview  Bringing back honour, dignity, fairness and intelligence

MIKE QUILLE speaks with Brett Gregory about working-class representation in contemporary British film

YOU recently wrote and directed a film called Nobody Loves You and You Don’t Deserve to Exist, which has won a lot of international awards. What’s the film about? 

The film is about class and morality, about how those in power treat us and about how we treat each other. It’s also about abandonment, loneliness, mental health and a breakdown in communication between the working and middle classes. 

Always in the background is the theme of class, and the north/south divide — how this is continually reinforced by right-wing ideological forces in order to distract and weaken any serious collective opposition to the systematic asset-stripping of what remains of the UK.

What were you aiming for with the film, and what were the reactions to the film from critics and from working-class people?

A crucial aim of the film was to represent the northern working class on screen with intelligence, authenticity and dignity, in direct opposition to the demeaning stereotypes and caricatures which are regularly churned out by the corporate mainstream media based in London.

Since its release on Amazon Prime in May 2022 we have won over 50 international film festival awards and nominations and received over 100 informed and passionate reviews on IMDb, Letterboxd and various arts and culture websites.

In the main these reviews praise the film’s anger, insight and originality, its production values, its performances and its soundtrack, comparing it to the works of Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Alan Clarke and even Theodor Dreyer.

Standout quotes such as “A searing portrait of modern Britain” are incredibly validating and prove that a large international audience — who are also going through their own individual horrors under globalised capitalism — need authentic stories like this to remind them that they’re not alone and they’re not going mad.

We hosted a free screening of the film on a working-class housing estate in Manchester, for instance, and while a number of attendees still strongly believed that cinema should be “entertaining” and “escapist,” many others recognised the role poverty, alcoholism, drug use and domestic abuse has played in their day-to-day lives.

What do you think of the history of the British film industry, and the kind of films that get made and distributed these days?

Because of the hierarchical character of the United Kingdom’s social system, the history of British cinema can primarily be understood in terms of the presence, or absence, of class and class division.

Repeated screenings of movies like David Lean’s Great Expectations (1946), Carol Reed’s Oliver! (1968) or Richard Fleischer’s The Prince and The Pauper (1977) usually took place in a school assembly or in the family living room over the Christmas period and contributed to a cultural normalisation of social prejudice, inequality and exclusion by disguising these conditions as simply an inevitable part of British history and tradition.

Indeed, during the 21st century, as the British empire suffers its death throes and the country’s post-Elizabethan standing on the world stage rapidly dwindles away, the Establishment has reacted accordingly in its attempt to remain in power by reasserting outmoded notions of cinematic representation that are increasingly reductive, intolerant and undemocratic.

While commercially successful film franchises like Harry Potter, James Bond, Downton Abbey and The Crown continue to suffocate the growing diversity and demands of our shared culture, the elevation of privately educated white male screen actors such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne and Tom Hiddleston has seemingly transported us back to the postwar performances of Lawrence Olivier, Alec Guinness and David Niven.

How could trade unions and activists get involved with promoting the film?

A first step would be for trade unions to show active support for the film by directly recommending it to their members, their friends and their families.

If there are activists who have access to screening facilities, I’ll be more than happy to send them a free copy of the film for exhibition. And if anyone is in the Greater Manchester region on January 20 2023, we are holding an exclusive free screening at the Leigh Film Factory in Wigan from 7pm onwards.

Finally, you can always watch the film right now on Amazon Prime for about five quid.

Such a public display of support and solidarity from the trade unions and their activists would of course alert other film-makers and documentarians up and down the country that there exists a real-world alternative to the “colour-by-numbers” period dramas, CGI extravaganzas and quirky lifestyle stories plopped out by the BBC, Sky, Channel 4 and the British Film Institute.

It will inspire them to work together in creating challenging and humane narratives from a non-corporate perspective. 

The effects of austerity cuts, Covid corruption, the cost-of-living crisis and industrial strike action etc. can all be faithfully and memorably dramatised, as we continue to suffer under this nice and shiny neoliberal kleptocracy of ours.

Just look at the ruckus RMT leader, Mick Lynch, has been causing on a weekly basis on inane television programmes like ITV’s This Morning or BBC Breakfast, and the real hope this has inspired within everyday people who are sitting at home right now, worrying about switching their heating on.

Just think about what else we could do — about how much further we could go to bring back honour, dignity, fairness and intelligence to the British Isles?

Mike Quille is the editor of Culture Matters. Nobody Loves You and You Don’t Deserve to Exist is available to watch on Amazon Prime. If you would like to screen the film, contact Brett Gregory at Serious Feather for a free copy. A longer version of this interview is available on the Culture Matters website, www.culturematters.org.uk.

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