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(Credit: Press / BFI)

Film

'Pressure': The first film depicting the black British experience

@Russellisation

Whilst the history of black American cinema has been widely documented and recognised by cinephiles, the illustrious past of black British cinema is quite different, with its origins in the 1970s being far less appreciated. Helping to establish the flourishing movie industry we have today, it was Pressure that was hailed as the very first black British feature film, bearing all the grit and dynamism that similar contemporary stories also possess. 

Hard-hitting and uncompromising, Pressure arrived at a time in British film history when experimentation was rife amidst one of the worst decades for commercial filmmaking. Joining the likes of Mike Leigh’s Bleak Moments, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, Horace Ové’s revolutionary black feature film slipped into the history of ‘70s filmmaking with a similar radical attitude that refuses to abide by industry norms.

Set in Ladbroke Grove, West London, Pressure focuses on a young black teenager, the son of an immigrant family from Trinidad, who finds it hard to adapt to a new white-dominated society. Stuck in the middle of two different cultural identities, the boy is forced to assimilate into British society despite his ambitions being repeatedly dashed due to systemic racism and social alienation. 

“What Pressure tried to do was to portray the experience of the Windrush generation, the kids who came with them and the kids born here,” director Horace Ové establishes, wishing to convey the livelihoods of those who were brought over to Britain to help it rebuild after the horrors of WWII. The result is a timely exploration of the experience of disenchanted black youths at a time when such a generation was forging their own paths as contemporary citizens of Britain. 

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Shedding light on the poverty, unemployment and general hardships such families had to face as a result of public hatred and police harassment, Pressure shows to be a truly pioneering film made years before its messages could be truly understood and interpreted by all. Using a mix of non-professional actors as well as paid performers Ové adopts a realist, gritty style that reflects the popularity of the kitchen sink drama that continued to prove popular into the 1970s with its naturalistic documentary feel. 

Realistically depicting the reality for so many in contemporary Britain, Pressure bottles the spirit of the civil rights movement in Britain that thrived throughout the 1970s thanks to a mixture of steely resolve and a passionate drive for social change. Showing the country in the very infancy of its modern multi-culturalism, Pressure provides a fascinating social document that picks apart the popular discourse surrounding the Windrush generation throughout the 1970s. Director Horace Ové is not interested in wallowing in the injustices of such a time, however, staying critical in the face of the British social order whilst being critical of the black response to such alienation, questioning the morals and heightened friction of his very own community.

Showing the many different ingredients that have gone into shaping the landscape of modern black Britain, Pressure remains a pioneering classic to this very day, promising a bright future for black filmmakers in the coming millennium.

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