One of the biggest travesties in British cinema is the lack of attention given to Horace Ové’s film Pressure, the first Black British film in history. Exploring the plight of Caribbean people in British society and their conflict with the police, the film is as pertinent now as ever before.
Set in Ladbroke Grove, West London, our unlucky protagonist Tony (Herbert Norville) attempts to find his way in life, struggling between different cultures that are at odds with each other.
You really feel his sense of disillusion at London, as white employers reject him again and again because of the colour of his skin, and his passive acceptance when he is thrown out of his friend’s house by her landlady is heartbreaking to watch.
For those familiar with the experience of London by black and ethnic minorities in the past, Tony’s experience comes as no surprise, but for many, the rampant racism and xenophobic atmosphere of 1970s London is a surprise. Written by Horace Ove and Sam Selvon, author of the The Lonely Londoners, the film really evokes the experiences of Selvon’s characters through fresh faced Tony and his band of thieving friends.
}For many, the rampant racism and xenophobic atmosphere of 1970s London is a surprise~
The film succeeds in being educative without being too subjective. When Tony witnesses a peaceful Black Power meeting being violently raided by the police, his political awakening begins. However, the motives and intentions of many in the movement, who resort to anti-white rhetoric, are critiqued, as well as the actions of the police.
After watching the film, I was surprised to discover that it was very controversial when it was first released. There’s not much swearing, not much violence and only a little peek of a penis. However, at the time it was banned for the way it depicted the police. Yet now, 30 years on, when institutions have less authority to commit such flagrant acts of censorship, Pressure still seems to be contentious. The fact that it still hasn’t been shown on television shows that the issues of institutional racism and police brutality back then are still thorny issues today, especially in the light of events like the Stephen Lawrence enquiry or the death of Ian Tomlinson.
Shot using many non-professional actors found on the streets of London, the film has a documentary feel to it, using natural sounds in many scenes to truly capture the 1970s metropolis. However, these realistic elements are interspersed with moments of surrealism, like Tony’s violent and erotic dream, which provide an artistic element to the urban landscape, making it alternate between being a place of possibility as well as hostility. This mix of contrasting elements shows the influence of Italian films on Ové, who is a renowned photographer as well as film director.
The fact that Pressure is still being denied the attention it deserves suggests that despite its multicultural, inclusive veneer, aspects of London are still the same as they were 30 years ago.
* Holds the Guinesss World Record for the first Black British film-maker to direct a feature-length film
* Broke into film as a slave extra in Joseph L.Mankiewicz’s 1963 epic Cleopatra
* Playing Away (1987) is probably his best known piece. Set in a fictitious location called d Sneddington, the comedy depicts a West Indian heritage cricket team from Brixtion arriving for a charity game
- * Ové’s influences include Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael, African-American political leaders of the 1960s and 1970s, but he is critical of contemporary black British politics