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Saturday Night at the Movies

By Andrew Stevens.

Babylon (1980) has been firmly wedged down the back of British cinema’s sofa for some time now, no Scum-style revival in its reputation. The dialogue doesn’t flinch either, there’s as much casual racism as you’ll have heard in Alan Clarke’s film. There’s also a bizarre series of glimpses of early careers: a receding yet long-haired Mel Smith as racist garage-owner, Karl Howman in possibly one of the most credible acting gigs of his career. Brian Bovell, later of Docklands-set chancer drama Prospects and subsequently cast as DC Rob Thatcher in The Bill plays the gawky Spark, sound system associate of main character Blue, played by Brinsley Forde of Aswad (still in their pre-commercial ‘Warrior Charge’ period.) Critics understandably rave about Dennis Bovell’s soundtrack for the film, but the true historical value is the South London setting: the ugly menace of the SPG-era Met, yet to turn in the Brixton riots, the council estate presence of the National Front, still smarting from the Battle of Lewisham in 1977, and the tragic events yet to unfold in New Cross with the fire of 1981 (in which 13 young black people died, amid charges of a Met cover up of a racist attack.) John Eden has more.

First posted: Saturday, August 15th, 2009.

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