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'It's a Dishonest Con!': Realist Film and Television after Alan Clarke

Wednesday 11 June 2014, 9.00AM

Speaker(s): Dr. David Rolinson (Stirling), Dr. David Tucker (Chester)


You can register for the conference here
Rates: £8 student/unwaged, £10 academic/waged.

The films of Alan Clarke remain among the most controversial and important examples of British ‘cinematic realism’. Those for which he remains best known, such as Scum (1979), Made in Britain (1982) and The Firm (1988), depict a complex vision of the working classes under Conservative rule in the 1980s. Portraying borstals, neo-Nazism and football hooliganism, the films would come to be at once maligned and censored by the same kind of moral authorities represented in many of Clarke’s works as violent and ineffective power structures.

This year will mark a quarter century since Clarke’s landmark Elephant (1989), a depiction of the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland that speaks across the borders of testimony, journalism and political narrative. Clarke’s uncompromising concern with social violence, however, has led to a neglect of his cinema. This neglect has played out primarily in assessments of his importance to British cinema, which have mostly delimited the director’s work firmly within the boundaries of social realism. His work demands to be reconsidered beyond this easy narrative.

Notably, Clarke proved the most significant populariser of the dramatist Bertolt Brecht on British television, adapting Brecht’s play Baal (1982), in which he would cast David Bowie in the lead role. Clarke’s work more generally formed close ties with the theatre, as well as with the BBC. Throughout the 1960s, he was responsible for directing both stage and television adaptations of classical and avant-garde theatrical productions, often at odds with the emerging taste for cinematic realism he remains associated with, epitomised by works such as Ken Loach’s BBC television play Cathy Come Home (1966) and feature film Kes (1969), as well as Alan Bleasdale’s BBC television series Boys from the Blackstuff (1980-1982).

Furthermore, many of today’s most important and popular film-makers have acknowledged their debt to Clarke, from Danny Boyle and Paul Greengrass to Gus van Sandt. How, we should ask, does this violent, politicised body of work produce such diverse responses? Would a reassessment of Clarke’s place within British and American film move him from the margins to the centre, or does the value of his film lie in its marginal, resistant status?


Download the programme here: Clarke conference programme (MS Word , 48kb)


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Conference organisers: Tim Lawrence, Jay James May and Andy Munzer.

Location: Bowland Auditorium, Berrick Saul Building