Written by: David Leland
Directed by: Alan Clarke
Many years ago, I was employed, by one of our local mental health centers, as a substance abuse and violence prevention specialist.
“Prevention” was a bit of a misnomer, since the students referred to us by the local school system were already painfully damaged and had been in serious trouble. I went into my meetings with violent kids proudly armed with strategies for alternative ways of handling potentially volatile situations. There was only one small problem with this approach. These kids had no interest in my dumb strategies. After all, in any conceivable situation, why wouldn’t they want to kick the crap out of someone?
Since they showed no remorse or empathy for their victims, I went back to something we’d been told, in grad. school, about working with antisocial personalities. Focus on their self-interest. Help them see that their lives would be better if they stayed out of trouble. If necessary, work on getting them to see the links between their actions and the consequences.
No dice. These kids showed no interest whatsoever in staying out of trouble. They could be threatened with expulsion, court, incarceration, a life of misery…they acted as if they couldn’t care less. This is still a bit of a mystery to me. I suspect, for some of these kids, this was a display of sheer bravado. For others, I think that never having known happiness, love, or security — even in early childhood — they simply couldn’t conceive of an easier life.
I was reminded of some of those kids while watching Made in Britain. In his screen debut, Tim Roth portrayed Trevor, a sixteen-year-old skinhead and juvenile delinquent, full of strutting, raging bravado and with a swastika tattooed to his forehead.
After his day in court for attacking a Pakistani man and vandalizing his store, for which he doesn’t bother to feign a shred of remorse, Trevor is taken to a residential facility for a psychological evaluation.
He rages at authority while holding his hand out for anything to which he feels entitled. And he promptly escapes, with his somewhat naive roommate in tow, engaging in some of his favorite pastimes: car theft, vandalism, and glue-sniffing.
We aren’t given any back story about Trevor — the movie offers no clue as to how he evolved into an enraged, destructive racist. While I was curious to know more about this character, I appreciated the fact that the film resisted the temptation to offer us any answers. Trevor simply is who he has become, a young man for whom we have virtually no hope.
Odd as it may sound, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It is no secret that I have a weakness for British social realism, and I was drawn into Roth’s performance. I could see his squirming, writhing rage and hatred, his impulsiveness, his eerie detachment from the realities of his own life, and the carefully camouflaged adolescent fear and insecurity every moment he was onscreen. This is drawn out by deft cinematography, illuminating his subtly shifting reactions to everything that happens. This is an unforgettable performance that foreshadowed later powerful films about skinhead culture, such as This is England and American History X.