Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Films of British Director Alan Clarke

A few years ago, I stumbled upon the work of Alan Clarke, a brilliant British director who made some extraordinary films.

Clarke, who died in 1990 at age 54, spent much of his career doing made-for-TV movies. But unlike the U.S. tradition of safe, formulaic stories neatly told in 90 minutes or two hours, Clarke’s work was experimental, sometimes raw, and occasionally baffling unless you caught on to his meaning.

The best example of the later is “Elephant” from 1989. This 39-minute film is a series of long-long takes of killers searching out, walking toward, and shooting their victims. After a while, the subject, the set-ups, and even the Steadicam filming technique become predictable and numbing. Clarke made the film to comment on the numbing effect the daily news of violence in Northern Ireland was having on the public.

Many of his films commented on current events.

“Made In Britain” is a 76-minute film from 1982 in which a young Tim Roth plays a rage-filled teenage skinhead.

“The Firm” is a 70-minute film from 1989 with Gary Oldman as the leader of gang of football hooligans.

“Contact,” a 67-minute film from 1985, is an oddly quiet piece about a squad of British soldiers on duty in Northern Ireland.

“Scum” is both a 78-minute TV movie from 1977 and a 1979 remake as a 98-minute feature film about a young teen in an English borstal (a tough juvenile detention center).

Each of these films are interesting, disturbing and compelling and prove that Alan Clarke was a major talent.

More about Clarke can be found on the IMDb.

A 5-disc DVD set includes “Elephant,” “Made in Britain,” “The Firm,” and both versions of “Scum.”

Some of Clarke’s work can be found on YouTube.

(For more overlooked films please visit Todd Mason's blog.) 


  1. Thanks for the heads-up Elgin. I may try and seek out some of his work.

    1. Some of his films are very off beat. But perhaps people used to the adventurous British TV networks will not find them so strange and experimental. I hope you can find them.

  2. Elgin, I'm familiar with Alan Clarke though I have not seen any of his films and television series. Some of the ones you mentioned sound interesting, particularly "The Firm" and "Contact."

    1. Prashant – There is one more film I should have mentioned called “Road,” about a group of people living in an old neighborhood of row houses. It is almost like a play except Clarke’s fluid camera follows them from house to house as we learn the individual stories. This one can be found on YouTube.

    2. Thanks, Elgin. I will take a look. There is so much I want to watch on the internet and most of it is in public domain, legally available. Not enough time.

    3. I know just what you mean – so many films and so many books (and more each week from this well-read blogging community), and so little … By the way, Juri at the blog Pulpetti, just wrote about another film on YouTube that looks intriguing. Ain’t life grand?!

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