Library Dissertation Showcase

British films that will lift your spirits: Exploring nostalgia, community and identification in films at times of socio/political uncertainty

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2020

In recent years, the British public has undergone a vast social and political change, shifting the direction of national identity and ‘British’ values. This dissertation aims to explore the relevance of themes found in British cinema and how these can be interpreted in present day, focusing its analysis on Made in Dagenham (Cole, 2010) and Pride (Warchus, 2014). As two British time period dramas, with factual based narratives, the themes and representations of communities in these films will illustrate the techniques used in British cinema to produce an uplifting tone. This study aims to explore themes of nostalgia, identification and community in order to promote British values. The presence of nostalgia will examine how traditional British values have been represented in the past and how these can be used for encouragement in present day. The identification of characters will display the traits and characteristics audiences resonate with through the self-development of the main characters, and how these can inspire the development of an audience. These films will be analysed in the context of viewing them from the perspective of present-day Britain, following the results and effects of the 2016 European Union Referendum.

Chapter one will contextualise the social and political stance of Britain by exploring the cultural response to the referendum, exposing the fragilities of British identity. Additionally, the chapter will outline the definition of ‘nationhood’ to develop the understanding of what it means to ‘belong’ to a specific community and how this is demonstrated in cinema. Referring to the work of Ernest Gellner and Mette Hjort, their writings on nationalism and national cinema indicate how films are able to produce a “theme of nation” (Hjort, 2000, 96) through, language, mutual beliefs and common knowledge between characters. Hjort offers an insight into the process of audience engagement with national cinema through the introduction of Lamarque and Olsen’s theory of ‘Topical’ and ‘Perennial’ themes. These themes work to broaden the reach of audiences through the depiction of universal topics, including overcoming social and political boundaries. These depictions of historical events are argued to promote themes of nostalgia and identification. Linda Chui-han Lai’s theory of nostalgia constructs an argument on how films use this cinematic device to build an image of the past, through the shared memories of a culture. Finishing with, nostalgia linking to the Cohen’s adaption of identification theory, whereby audiences are able to identify and sympathise with characters. The importance of which is argued by Angelaki who argues, it is crucial to locate “the individual within the collective narrative in a time of flux” (Angelaki, 2017, 11). Bringing all this together will demonstrate how it is possible for audiences to criticise the social and political stance of UK in the past and present and why it is important.

Chapter two explores the struggles of working-class women during 1960s Britain. With an analysis of Made in Dagenham. Produced by BBC Films and the UK Film Council, the film portrays a re-enactment of the 1968 Ford Machinist Strike. After being graded as ‘unskilled workers’, Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins) leads the fight for equal pay and fair grading against the Ford management. As a quintessential British film, focused around the humble but difficult life of the working-class, the film celebrates the first case of industrial action taken by women, resulting in a political step towards equal pay for women. As a politically motivated film, an understanding of the social structure in the UK at the time of the strike, will indicate the position of women in a patriarchal society. George Stevenson highlights the issue of class and gender as “the relationship between feminism and class politics in this period is part of a longer tradition that runs through from histories of Chartism to women’s suffrage” (Stevenson, 2016, 741). Despite the characters hardship throughout the film, the text works to provide a confident image of the working-class, igniting traditional British values. Owen Jones specifies the values of the working-class as communities with “strength, solidarity and a sense of power” (Jones, 2016, 49), leading to ordinary people achieving extraordinary things. The chapter builds a case to demonstrate how films can become a source of inspiration for audiences to work against hegemonic powers. Due to the perspective of the narrative, there is an argument that this is achieved through the empowerment of female characters, leading to sources of identification, according to the work of Jackie Stacey.

As a study exploring the significance of British cinema during a time of disunity, there is no film more appropriate than Pride (Warchus, 2014). Chapter three aims to present the importance of community ties in society through the coming together of two different, but equally repressed communities. Set during the culturally testing times of the Thatcherite government in the 1980s, this text produces a story of struggle from the working-class as well as introducing a perspective from the gay community. Described as “one of the most irresistibly uplifting films of the year” (Kermode, 2014), Pride, illustrates how the realism of British cinema can benefit the uplifting tone of the film. This is illustrated through the work of Ros Jennings and her writing on ‘positive unoriginality’ as she claims “the ‘positiveness’ of the film is enunciated as a product or, perhaps more precisely, as a set of tensions (Jennings, 2006, 186). The tensions of the narrative revolve around the possible disruptions to community due to the entrance of a gay support group, ‘Gays and Lesbians Support the Miners’ (LGSM). As a narrative told from the perspective a LGBTQ+ community, the film can be read as a British Queer film which “provides a discipline for exploring the relationships between lesbians, gay men and the culture which surrounds and (for the large part) continues to seek to exclude us” (Storey, 2006, 124). The aspect of the gay community allows for an appropriate discussion into the political and social importance of community in terms of being recognised as a ‘place of identification’, argued by Cuba and Hummon. As two communities are seen to unite, the identity of the community changes, resulting in the heterosexual males experiencing a masculinity crisis. A crisis which is argued to enable them to broaden the perspective of masculinity in British society.

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