themes

British Realism

British Realism

The tradition of social realism in British film is often said to have begun with the Free Cinema movement of the mid-1950s. The aim of these documentaries—shown at the National Film Theatre in London from 1956–1959, and made by the likes of Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz, and Tony Richardson—was to bring to the screen authentic representations of the working class, largely absent from the conservative mainstream British culture of the day. In the early sixties, this rebellious sensibility was transposed to narrative cinema in the form of rough-edged, often black-and-white character pieces, often referred to as “kitchen-sink dramas,” such as Anderson’s major success This Sporting Life. At the end of the decade, Ken Loach, a political filmmaker with a background in television, took realism even further with the groundbreaking Kes, a grimy, unsentimental portrait of a boy in a Northern England mining town, featuring nonprofessional actors. Today, the legacy of British social realism continues to be felt in the work of many filmmakers, including Mike Leigh, Lynne Ramsay, and Andrea Arnold.