The In-Your-Face Films of Alan Clarke

Clarke was highly regarded by filmmakers and actors alike. I asked a few — Ken Loach, Paul Greengrass, Harmony Korine and Mr. Roth — to explain why. Here’s what they had to say:

Paul Greengrass, Director

Mr. Greengrass, the director of “United 93” and several Jason Bourne films, has long championed Clarke’s work, and said by phone that just because his films appeared on television, they shouldn’t be overlooked.

“That’s the laboratory from which that generation of filmmakers sprang,” he said, referring the 1970-84 anthology series “Play for Today,” which included productions by Stephen Frears, Mike Leigh and Mr. Loach. “It was a jewel in the crown of the BBC’s drama. It was marked by extraordinary creative freedom.”

“All those filmmakers, in their different ways,” he said, “they’re intentionally patriotic in their concerns. They defined our national character and the forces at play that create that national character.”

But there was a difference with Clarke. “You don’t think of a Loach or a Leigh or a Frears movie and think of adrenaline. Clarke had that,” he said. “It was a sense of attack.”


A scene from “Scum,” which the BBC banned.


Ken Loach, Director

Both Mr. Loach, whose “I, Daniel Blake” won the top prize at Cannes last year, and Clarke began as filmmakers in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and both would challenge the limits of British television with increasingly provocative films.

Clarke’s most controversial film was the 1977 “Scum,” starring Mr. Winstone as the marquee inmate at a prison for juvenile offenders. The film was deemed too authentic in its depiction of severe physical and psychological abuse and banned by the BBC. (Though it was remade as a theatrical film in 1979, the television version wasn’t broadcast until 1991.) “Alan wasn’t someone who would fit someone else’s formula,” said Mr. Loach (two of his films were similarly suppressed). “I think with Alan’s films I would hope that it endorsed his views,” he added by phone, referring to the banning. “It would underline what he was saying was important.”


A scene from “Christine” (1987), featuring Alan Clarke’s signature walking shots.


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