Acting Hard

This collection explores representations of working-class masculinity in British cinema from the Thatcher era to the present day.

I’m the daddy now, next time, I’ll f****** kill ya!’
– Carlin (Ray Winstone) in Scum

The 1980s were a thrilling time for film and television in Britain, with investment creating a new kind of industry that aimed to reflect modern society. Thatcherism promised social mobility, and working-class men became defined by how easily they could climb the ranks, so long as they mirrored the respectability that, until then, was associated with the upper classes. But not everyone played along and a new kind of working-class man emerged – one that seeped into popular culture, where he has remained. He enjoys drinking, breaking the law and engaging in violence. He’s a petty criminal (Scum), a gangster (Face) or a DJ (Young Soul Rebels). This collection invites you to take a closer look at these frequently misunderstood characters and to ask what they’re really about. 

- Nia Childs, curator

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Nil by MouthNil by Mouth

Drama1997129 minsDirector: Gary Oldman

Twenty-five years old and newly restored, Gary Oldman’s BAFTA-winning debut as writer-director remains a magnificent achievement.

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Drama198095 minsDirector: Franco Rosso

A young Rastafarian toaster (rapper) aims for success at a Reggae Sound System competition, in this cult classic from Franco Rosso that pulsates with an irresistible dub soundtrack.

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Drama201989 minsDirector: Mark Jenkin

Simmering tensions between locals and newcomers in a modern-day Cornish fishing village reach boiling point in this hugely acclaimed British independent film.

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Bullet BoyBullet Boy

Drama200586 minsDirector: Saul Dibb

Ashley Walters impresses in the hard-hitting Hackney drama that’s still one of the best of Britain’s black urban crime films.

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Crime1997101 minsDirector: Antonia Bird

Robert Carlyle and Ray Winstone are members of a criminal gang that tears itself apart after a heist goes wrong, in Antonia Bird’s stylish thriller.

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Drama197997 minsDirector: Alan Clarke

Director Alan Clarke examines the grim reality of borstal life in this searing remake of his previously banned television play.

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My Brother the DevilMy Brother the Devil

Drama2012107 minsDirector: Sally El Hosaini

Sally El Hosaini's feature debut tells of the love and disenchantment of two British-Egyptian brothers as gangs, drugs and sexuality come between them.

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Young Soul RebelsYoung Soul Rebels

Drama1991105 minsDirector: Isaac Julien

The Queen's Silver Jubilee beats to the sounds of Funkadelic, Sylvester and the O'Jays in Isaac Julien’s feature debut.

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Drama2019111 minsDirector: Gerard Johnson

A directionless call centre salesman gets more than he bargained for when he joins a local gym, in Gerard Johnson's stunning dissection of masculinity.

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