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Disabled Britain on Film

This diverse and fascinating collection looks at representations of disabled people on screen over the past ten decades. It offers a glimpse into the lives and experiences of people often hidden from screen history, and a chance to see how contemporary disabled artists and filmmakers are insisting that their own images and voices must be seen and heard.

 

The history of disabled people in Britain has, until quite recently, been one of social exclusion and segregation. In the early 20th century, many were consigned to an institutional life of incarceration – becoming what one disabled academic dubbed 'the socially dead'. During the 1930s and early 40s, the rise of the global eugenics movement led to the mass murder of 1000s of disabled people in Nazi Germany and compulsory sterilisation in several European nations.  
After the war, the emerging charitable response to disability and the development of state-led care in the community in the 1980s eventually gave rise to the struggle for civil rights, led by disabled activists themselves. “Nothing about us, without us” became a rallying cry.

Graham Findlay (disability equality consultant)

Please note: some titles in this collection may contain language or other content that reflect views prevalent in their time but that may cause offence today. They are included here for historical reasons and are in no way endorsed by the BFI or its partners.

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Highlights

The End
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The End

Science Fiction201124 mins

A moving speculation on the future decline of Deaf culture

Smallest Woman in the World
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Smallest Woman in the World

News19728 mins Location: Bromsgrove

Living in a world that makes no concessions for her size: Joyce Carpenter is Britain's smallest woman.

Trapped Rhythms
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Trapped Rhythms

Music video20164 mins

Powerful music video that demands respect for difference.

Education of the Deaf
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Education of the Deaf

Documentary194651 mins Location: Manchester

A brisk look at the tests and education practices for deaf people in 1940s

Resistance
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Resistance

Drama200813 mins

Artist-activist Liz Crow's haunting film about the Nazis' Aktion-T4 programme during World War Two. In 1939 Germany, a secret institution has sinister plans for its disabled inmates.

Artificial Limb Making
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Artificial Limb Making

Non-Fiction19161 minsSilent

Occupational therapy turns full circle, as amputee soldiers learn to make artificial limbs for others

Hands Solo
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Hands Solo

200915 mins

A Deaf man becomes a world-famous porn star thanks to some advanced skill with his hands.

Ian Dury
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Ian Dury

Biopic198352 mins

Blockheads lead singer talks about how becoming disabled has affected his life and music.

Like Other People
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Like Other People

Documentary197251 mins

Man Alive! moral panic, sex, and when professionals ruled – life as a disabled couple in 1972

All Day
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All Day

201011 mins

Two single neighbours look for love in this playful rom-com exploring Deaf identity

Special People
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Special People

Comedy200413 mins

Five teenagers get their own back on a manipulative filmmaker in this subversive comedy.

Zero Hour
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Zero Hour

Charity appeal19288 minsSilent

"In the kingdom of the blind, the St Dunstan's man is king": how blinded WWI soldiers set up their own businesses.

Y Gwr O Gwr Yr Aran
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Y Gwr O Gwr Yr Aran

197829 mins Location: Llanuwchllyn

Teacher Frank Letch of Llanuwchllyn, Gwynedd discusses his life and living with his acquired disability in this TV documentary. In Welsh with English subtitles.

A Day in the Life of Kevin Donnellon
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A Day in the Life of Kevin Donnellon

197228 mins

An episode of World in Action documenting the life of 11 year old Kevin and how he and his family live with the effects of the drug Thalidomide.

An Ordinary Life
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An Ordinary Life

198529 mins

“I’d much rather work at a computer than make wicker baskets” – disabled people hit the mainstream in 1980s Britain

Rehabilitation at Roffey Park
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Rehabilitation at Roffey Park

194629 mins Location: Roffey Park (College)

The treatment of World War II Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – filmed, astonishingly, in full colour.

Invalid Carriage Protest
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Invalid Carriage Protest

News19772 mins Location: Solihull

Disabled motorists take on the Government and corner a Minister in the process.

The Mask
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The Mask

Documentary20174 mins

Personal exploration of identity and autism, with a splash of Al Murray.

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Care or Cure?
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Care or Cure?

For centuries, both disabled people and becoming disabled were viewed as a fearful burden, both to the family and to society at large. This collection reflects this underlying world view, which often switches between seeking a cure for impaired bodies and minds, and if a cure isn't found, to care for them.

Body Politic
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Body Politic

It's only relatively recently that disabled people began to be seen as a part of, not apart from, the communities where they live and work. This collection shows the slow shift in attitudes, as a more enlightened philosophy of 'care in the community' began gradually to replace the life sentence of being consigned to an institution.

Fundraising and Charity
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Fundraising and Charity

Beginning with caring for the returning wounded from the First World War and ending at a special school for disabled children in the early 1990s, these films exemplify how the charitable response to disability was the predominant one for many disabled people.

Up Close and Personal
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Up Close and Personal

Covering three decades, this collection of personal journeys gives an insight into how disabled people were often viewed through two powerful lenses. One saw disability as a personal tragedy. The other saw disabled people as triumphing over adversity. But disabled people usually don’t conform to these stereotypes, if given the opportunity to speak for themselves.

Nothing About Us Without Us
Nothing About Us Without Us collection
Free collection

Nothing About Us Without Us

Driven by enhanced access to digital technology and online distribution platforms, the most recent chapter in D/deaf and disability-led filmmaking has seen an exciting range of contemporary work produced that challenges mainstream representations and puts the narrative back in the hands of the disabled community. 

More Disabled Britain on Film in our Rentals collection

More Disabled Britain on Film in our Rentals collection