The time has come to celebrate British cinema. Not the British cinema of Hitchcock, Powell and Pressburger, David Lean or Robin The Wicker Man Hardy, but the cinema of subsidies and struggle, the results of which have barely seen the inside of a cinema since they stumbled into life in the 1970s and 80s. This is a cinema anchored by nationality and penury, much of which is still stranded in obscurity awaiting validation and re-release. It includes much of the cinema of arch politico/mockumentarist Peter Watkins and Barney Platts-Mills, whose raw funny portraits of class and dissolution – Bronco Bullfrog, Private Road and Scottish period drama The Hero were last seen on Channel 4 in its agenda setting early days.
Luckily for us a few of these neglected masterworks of underground British cinema are beginning to emerge on DVD. Chris Petit’s stunning 1979 Wim Wenders produced existential road movie Radio On (BFI •••••) and Stuart Cooper’s equally remarkable Overlord (Metrodome •••••) – a newsreel footage style recreation of one man’s D-Day hell – were the first to see the light of day earlier this year.
Arguably the greatest cinematic achievement to ever come out of Scotland, the Bill Douglas Trilogy (BFI •••••) is a compelling account of childhood in Newcraighall. It finally gets a decent DVD release (it’s only taken 30 years) this month with loads of extras including other shorts by Douglas and an archival interview with the great man.
Douglas’ Scouse counterpart Terence Davies, whose brilliant autobiographical 1988 film Distant Voices, Still Lives was finally given a decent DVD release last year, struggled with faith, homosexuality and hardship in much the same way as Douglas can be perceived as having done. Like Douglas, Davies poured his heart and soul in to a personal trilogy detailing life (and death) on the margins of society, which lay archived but largely unattainable for years. On the 28th July this month The Terence Davies Trilogy (BFI •••••) finally enters the public domain for the first time since its completion in 1983, excellently supported here by an illustrated booklet, which includes an essay by the late great Derek Jarman on the trilogy.
British cinema may not see their like again.