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Social Realism Case Study

Rob Miller | Thursday June 14, 2012

Categories: A Level, AQA A Level, AQA AS, Film, Social Realism, Hot Entries

Origins and Development

Social Realist films originate in the 1950s/1960s but drew in terms of their form and style from the British documentary tradition of the 1930s popularised by the GPO Film Unit (Nightmail) who ultimately became the Crown Film Unit at the start of WW2 (Fires Were Started, Britain Can Take It). In the 1960s social realist films became critically and commercially successful and benefitted from the fact that television was only a feature in some middle class households – people flocked to the cinema to see films like Billy Liar (1953), Cosh Boy (1953), Room at the Top (1958), This Sporting Life (1963), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) and Kathy Come Home (1966).

Typically original social realism was set in the industrial north but occasionally travelled south as in the 1968 film, Up the Junction set in west London (Chelsea) and south London (Battersea) starring a young, working class Dennis Waterman (Pete) who falls for a upper/middle class girl (Polly) who decides she wants to find out what ‘life is really life’ by travelling from Chelsea to Battersea to work in factory sweat shop. Fundamentally Up the Junction encapsulates what social realism was about – social class, alienation, frustration and fighting the system. Binary oppositions of social class were and are common with the 1950s/60s social realist films deliberately representing the different layers and divisions in post war, industrial Britain. This was a time when the country was rebuilding and the manufacturing industry was at the heart of this process with slum clearance also high on the agenda, new homes and a new structuring of society post 1945 Welfare State provision under a new Labour government.

Social realist films were keen to show the effects on society and depict the problems endured by the working class and ‘underclass’ including homelessness (Kathy Come Home), unemployment and ambition (Billy Liar) and the...


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