Pressure (1976)

This film, directed by Horace Ov√© is, if I’m correct, one of the first feature length black rights films to be made in Britain so the context of production is really important when talking about this film. The story follows Tony, a young man born in Britain to a Trinidadian family as he tries to find a job but ends up getting involved in the black rights movement he was previously disinterested in. The film tackles a lot of really interesting issues including diasporic identity, institutionalised racism, internalised racism, the generational gap and a lot more, however I found the issues to be dealt with incredibly heavy handedly with no hint of subtlety but I do think that is probably the only way to spread this message at the time of release.

Having been born in England, Tony doesn’t feel connected to the black rights cause much to the dismay of his brother Colin, to whom it is very important. Whilst black identity is incredibly important to Colin who says such things as ‘black people should eat black food’, Tony just wants to eat fish and chips and hang out with his white mates. However just as he’s not really Trinidadian due to being raised British, he’s not really British either due to his roots as well as his skin colour. We are told that Tony was the cleverest kid in his class at school however, unlike his white peers, he is unable to get a job due to his race, this leads to an increasing frustration and a lack of money which leads to petty crime. Throughout the film, as Tony experiences more and more racism he becomes more attuned to the black rights cause as he is more familiarised with the racism he faces every day. The film does a good job to not make the film about black people vs white people, tony has many, accepting white friends, and the black rights campaigners who promote equality as opposed to any form of superiority, they’re not fighting against white people per say, but just for their own rights.

From the beginning of the film Tony’s mother keeps telling him ‘we moved here for you, so you could have a better life’, a common theme in films dealing with immigrant families in western countries. However, Pressure puts an interesting spin on this towards the end of the film, in one of the better scenes of the film, where Tony and his parent’s argue leading to his father revealing the truth. The truth being that they moved because the mother was obsessed with being more white, more English as that was what is seen as the paradigm of civilised culture, ¬†however no matter how hard they try they can never be white and English. The dream of England as a land of opportunity is just a dream, especially for black people in the face of overwhelming racism which pervades even their own culture, in fact Tony’s father feels that they are much worse off having moved.

There are a few scenes, such as the one I just mentioned that are really fantastic but unfortunately the film is a victim of its production context. There was never going to be much funding for such a politically charged film which criticises the racist institutions of England, so being a low budget film from the 70s means it has not aged well at all. A lot of the actors in the film were not actors at all but ordinary people bought in, perhaps for budgetary reasons, perhaps for the sake of authenticity, but there’s a reason people train in acting and its very clear that the majority of the actors here have had no training. One particular example is Tony’s mother who has a lot of potentially fantastic material to work with but ends up just shouting badly for the majority of the film which doesn’t help with the heavy handed dealing of the issues at play. I will say that Sheila Scott-Wilkinson really stood out as one of the key members of the black rights campaign, sister Louise, who was also a fantastic character acting as a mouthpiece for a whole lot of ideologies. One thing I felt to be a real missed opportunity was the music, at one point sister Louise even says that music is ‘one of the most important parts of the black man’s heritage’, however the music is very sparse and when there is music it really lacks in character and doesn’t reflect this at all.

The film is probably worth watching if you’re interested in the history of black rights in England or black cinema, however it really is heavy handed with its themes. Those themes really are incredibly interesting though, so it could be a great film to educate yourself on these topics, however if I were to recommend a film about racial tension and identity I would recommend Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing over this any day.