I’m a Tim Roth fan, so you can imagine my excitement when I learned that “Made In Britain” was coming out on DVD. This was Roth’s first role, and I had yet to see it. Was it worth the wait? Definitely.
“Made In Britain” follows the exploits of Trevor (Roth), a skinhead who enjoys throwing bricks through the windows of immigrants’ homes. Once he is tossed into the UK equivalent of juvenile detention facility, he’s set to learn some life lessons. As to be expected, these lessons fall on deaf ears as Trevor finds creative ways to let the authorities know he’s never going to change because he’s proud to be British.
Skinhead movies have always held a certain amount of appeal to me. “Romper Stomper” is a classic, and while “American History X” had one of the most improbable character arcs I’ve ever seen, it’s still a decent film. I come from a punk background, so I’m always curious as to how these films deal with the subject, which is closely linked to the punk scene by default.
Most of the skinhead films I’ve seen tackle the subject from the angle of the white power skin. Not all skins are racist, as anyone who has studied the culture knows, but it’s easier to make the films around the white supremacy philosophy because it’s how audiences view skinheads and it provides the most tension.
The movies haven’t always gotten skinhead culture right, either. In “Made In Britain” Trevor doesn’t have a job, sniffs glue and befriends a black guy. Can you guess which one of these things is wrong? That was a trick question, actually. Two of those things are wrong. While it could be different in Britain, American skinheads that I’ve known (as well as Italian ones) would never tolerate being unemployed and sniffing glue. Those are things lazy people and junkies do, and it goes against “skinhead pride” to partake in such actions. Befriending a black guy, however, is not a serious transgression. (On an oddly related note, many of the skinheads I’ve known really love Public Enemy and N.W.A. for some strange reason.) So in that sense, Trevor’s character did not ring true. His anger, though, was spot-on.
The anger is one thing that all the skinhead movies I’ve seen seem to get right, perhaps because it is such a basic, primal anger. These young, bald men are seriously pissed at the world around them, and they have valid (to them) reasons why. Jobs are being taken by immigrants (legal or not), the school system is being dumbed down (though how much they contribute to that is hardly ever examined at any meaningful length), and the average working class family is being shut out of the loop. Anybody who watches mainstream news can see why they feel this way, though it’s a fairly inaccurate picture of how the world actually works. If you buy these ideas, though, the actions of the skinheads seem understandable, and even justified. Smashing windows and busting teeth is how these fellows lash out and try to make the world a “better” place. Any movie I’ve seen that’s written by someone who has even the slightest bit of understanding of the culture has gotten this aspect right.
The odd thing about some skinhead movies is how they sometimes try to redeem the character at the end. Love sets the character free, or a previously racist character realizes the error of his ways and vows to lead a better life. In “Made In Britain,” however, we are left with a close-up of Trevor’s smiling, maniacal face. He’s just been told how his life is going to be from here on in by two policemen who have his number. He belongs to the system now, and they let him know they know it. Trevor’s expression could be saying any number of things. He’s either totally happy with the situation or ignorant of it. It could also be that he knows he’s doomed, and his frozen expression hides fear. Either way, this is more or less how many real skinheads end up.
I knew a guy like Trevor. Young and crazy. Had “skin” tattooed on his lower inside lip. Skinhead tattoos on his arms. Threw rocks through windows for kicks. Once beat a black guy nearly to death with a log simply because he saw him walking along the road. One day this skin disappeared. Rumor had it he had joined some branch of the military because he couldn’t keep a job and wanted to defend his country from foreigners. I heard he ended up having a black drill sergeant in boot camp who didn’t take too kindly to his tattoos. I can only imagine the hell he went through, and I picture his face looking somewhat like Trevor’s. I didn’t feel any pity, however. He chose his path, and like Trevor, he led a life that put him in the hands of others who wanted to control him. He acted like an animal and ended up caged.
Yeah, “Made In Britain” brought back some memories and made me think that no matter the country, no matter the age … some people will never learn. I have to admit, though, that their anger often makes for some excellent movies.
Posted on July 13, 2006 in Features by Doug Brunell
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