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Aftersun, Scrapper, And The Importance Of Working Class Stories

6 min read

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.

2023 marks an important year for the voices of the in British Cinema. It's the twentieth anniversary of Shane Meadows' blistering thriller Dead Man's Shoes, it's the year Ken Loach's final film as director — The Old Oak — is released, it marked a very successful awards season for ' , and it's recently seen the release of 's .

What makes this so important is that there is a significant lack of working-class voices and stories being told. It's no coincidence that in the late 90s, when a certain political party got into power, we saw a boom of working-class filmmakers burst onto the scene. It was a time when Guy Ritchie made his name with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Danny Boyle made Shallow Grave and Transporting, Gary Oldman's Nil by Mouth, Tim Roth's The War Zone, Shane Meadows came onto the scene with Twenty Four Seven, and perhaps most importantly, Lynne Ramsay made Ratcatcher.

There was of course always room for American-backed dramas about Royals, a biopic here and there and the occasional blockbuster, but this was still a time of Sexy Beast, Billy Elliott, Dirty Pretty Things, and the fantastic This is England. It's telling that those voices who rose up in the late 90s / early 00s have shifted away from those stories. Guy Ritchie, Danny Boyle and Lynne Ramsay have all vanished from hard-hitting dramas. Now Ritchie is making his name in live-action Disney remakes and rebooting old franchises, Ramsay has been making Indie American dramas, and Boyle has gone full establishment, helming the opening of the Olympics in 2012 and making middle-class rom-coms like Yesterday.

Even looking at the 's award for Outstanding British Film since 2009, (the last year we had a Labour government) when Andrea Arnold's phenomenal Fish Tank won, in the thirteen years since the winners have looked like this: The King's Speech, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Skyfall, Gravity, The Theory of Everything, Brooklyn (which is Irish), I, Daniel Blake, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Favourite, 1917, Promising Young Woman, Belfast and The Banshees of Inisherin (which is Irish).

If we were to look at those films as the very best of British, what we can glean is that outside of I, Daniel Blake, the best things we make are either about the Republic of Ireland, backed by American money, or don't even focus on British people. This is patently not true. While Shane Meadows has had to take his hard-hitting dramas to television, there is a rise in stories about the working class, and it's important that now is the time.

Mubi

Art is, and always has been, a reflection of the time. If you want to know about a certain time and place in a country, look at the art it produces. Following scandal after scandal, people are finally realising that the current government simply doesn't work and has abandoned the working class. A film like I, Daniel Blake was an important marker that spoke about the insanity of the benefits system that Ken Loach was so staunchly against. His latest, and last, film looks to talk about the migrant “crisis” that has every red-faced GB News anchor screaming into oblivion. 

It's work like this that has inspired brilliant recent films on the subject — the haunting horror film His House, which took the story of South Sudanese refugees and placed them in a haunted house where the horrors were as much in their past as the supernatural. That same year, Promising Young Woman, an important but clearly American film beat both that and Limbo, Ben Sharrock's touching and funny story of people in temporary accommodation, during awards season.

There's no great revelation to be made saying that thirteen years under the thumb of Conservatives has made the working class angry — that much is obvious, But there's a marked difference in the films of the 90s and the films now in tone. The rage and gritty no-holds-barred approach to the films of the 90s were a reaction to the lack of realistic portrayals in the media. In the decades since we have seen channels make fortunes from viewing figures of things like Benefits Street and The Jeremy Kyle Show, both of which paint the working class as violent, thuggish and something to hate. Words like “chav” and the ASBO-centric view of people from a lower economic background have been seen for what they are — crass, fear-mongering from an elite group who have no real experience of what working means.

Aftersun and Scrapper are important films in that while they portray people from broken homes and lower incomes, they don't demonise them. In fact, the tone of both films is very light. They also readdress another issue that middle-class people have about the working class — the lack of male role models. Both films focus on a father attempting to connect with their young daughter despite their own personal problems. This feels like a rebuttal to the endless complaints that fathers aren't there for their children and that that is why there were things like crime, as opposed to things like lack of upward mobility, underfunding of the arts, soaring costs of living.

While Aftersun is a snapshot of time on holiday, Scrapper portrays people living in built-up areas, areas that are usually shown to be where crime is rife. It's not that the film doesn't show crime (it does), but it doesn't demonise the desperation of those trying to make things work. The way in which director Regan portrays the life of Georgie, who is trying to carry on after the death of her mother, isn't played for poverty-stricken suffering but instead shows the level of imagination many children from those areas have. Despite not having much, she is able to keep her mind active with imagination as well as making her own way.

Picturehouse

This cuts to the heart of what work by the working class is, and why it is so vital. People from lower economic backgrounds have as rich a life and culture as anyone else, perhaps more so, given that regional working-class people have differences. It's only in stories like Scrapper that embrace the lives of these people that we get a fully-rounded reflection of what makes up the fabric of the United Kingdom. The reality is that no matter how much people from the middle classes claim to know about those of us from lower incomes, they don't.

We're a long way away from the days of the Hoodie Horror, which for all of its inherent flaws, was some of the last times people from the working class had films that reflected their lives. Instead, now we have films that dare to point out that for over a decade, British cinema has simply shied away from that.

It's also vital that these films get wide releases. If people who would benefit from seeing them can't see them, then they won't continue to get made, and we'll continue to be a weaker country film-wise. It's telling that the British-backed movies that get the huge releases are the Downton Abbey type films, ones that pander to the upstairs-downstairs and trade in casting Dames and Sirs. Instead, we should focus more on giving new voices a chance to rise up, so that our films can be a voice for the people that make this nation great and not a mouthpiece for the establishment.

Scrapper is currently in UK cinemas, with Aftersun available to stream on MUBI.