Pressure review – pioneering story of living with British racism retains its power


Ové’s groundbreaking drama from 1975, “Pressure”, has been restored and re-released as part of a retrospective at BFI Southbank in London. As the first feature-length black British film, it is a dynamic and raw portrayal, with Ové using bold strokes to convey its message with captivating energy. Its style and themes resemble those of a modern graphic novel, fearlessly tackling issues of Black Power and social realism while incorporating elements of comedy, tragedy, and irony. The film also includes a surreal fantasy sequence, a chilling hospital scene, and an intense police chase reminiscent of “The Sweeney”.

The reappearance of the film may evoke nostalgia for the 70s, but it also serves as a reminder that the struggles faced by Britain’s black communities have not lessened. As we watch this film against the backdrop of events such as the New Cross fire, Stephen Lawrence’s murder, and the “hostile environment” policy implemented by Teresa May, which resulted in the deportation of Windrush veterans who were previously praised by the media establishment during the 70th anniversary in 2018, it becomes clear that the issues are still prevalent. Viewing the movie on the big screen is an unsettling experience, as the grittiness of pre-gentrified Ladbroke Grove in west London is depicted in vivid and surreal detail. Ové effectively incorporates real people and street scenes as his characters move through their surroundings; at one point, a frustrated woman can be seen trying to pass through the scene while the characters are in dialogue.

The plot of the story revolves around a Trinidadian family. Lucas, portrayed by Frank Singuineau, is an immigrant from the Windrush generation and owns a corner shop. He is married to the strong-willed Bopsie, played brilliantly by Lucita Lijertwood. Their two sons are Colin, who is portrayed with impressive strength and intensity by Oscar James, and Tony, a timid and kind-hearted young man (played by Herbert Norville) who is actively seeking employment and trying to fit into the white society. (Norville later gave a remarkable performance in Jack Rosenthal’s play, The Chain.) As Tony becomes disillusioned, he becomes involved in criminal activities and also becomes a part of Colin’s political circle. He also faces discrimination from both the police and the narrow-minded landlady of a white girl he had been escorting home.

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My favourite scene in Pressure is the excruciating sequence when Tony comes for an interview for a white-collar filing job in some down-at-heel government department. His very presence causes pressure, a weird miasma of smiling unease among the entire staff as he is ushered into the manager’s office for the interview (although the glimpse of this man’s secret porn stash is a moment of broad comedy at odds with the subtlety of this moment). All too clearly everyone had been expecting a white candidate, and now the interviewer has to go through the motions of a fair-minded assessment before he is able to usher this disturbing person back out the door. The interview is artificially distended and lengthened by the manager, who has a fixed, glassy-eyed expression, as he makes an elaborate show of poring over Tony’s CV and qualifications. He occasionally looks up with a polite, quizzical smile – mannerisms which are intended to pacify and subdue and, as Tony is only now learning, do not indicate any genuine thoughtfulness or even honest indecision on the interviewer’s part. It is a theatre of polite rejection.

Tony will finally discover a sense of belonging in the Black Power movement. As someone who is referred to as the “English” kid and was born in England, he offers valuable insights that could be considered intersectional, especially in 2023. In Britain, black people face racism similar to the exclusion and snobbery experienced by the working class white population. This often leads to the latter harboring hatred towards black people as a way to boost their own self-esteem. On the other hand, Colin critiques capitalism and culture by highlighting the discrepancy between the value placed on avocados in 1975 Britain, where they were seen as a luxurious delicacy for dinner parties, and their commonness in his home country, Trinidad, where they are called “zaboca” and even used to feed pigs. Despite progress, societal pressure still holds a significant amount of influence.


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