How Derek Jarman’s Jubilee Played With Britishness

Jordan as Amyl Nitrate

Last night, i watched the Derek Jarman post- punk film Jubilee for the first time as an adult. I hadn’t seen it in about thirty five years. One particular facet stood out to me.

It wasn’t the obvious middle finger to Thatcherism, coming as it did slap bang in that most bleak time in the late seventies.

It wasn’t even the violence, putting women front and centre. Mad, a wonderfully unhinged Toyah Wilcox, leads a female gang through rubbish-strewn streets like an oestrogen-fuelled riposte to A Clockwork Orange.

It wasn’t the fact that it could use a little trimming. The first twenty minutes or so have real longeurs. Bloody hell, Jarman, I’m all for experimentation, but keep it interesting.

David Brandon as Ariel and Jenny Runacre as Elizabeth I

No, it was the tropes of Britishness that stood out. At one point, after another night of wanton nihilism, languishing in their squalid flat, Bod (Jenny Runacre, who also portrayed Elizabeth I here in a dual role) casually asks the other women if they’d like a cup of tea.

Mad, the deranged arsonist, played by Toyah

When Mad carves the word ‘LOVE’ ironically into Bod’s back with a knife, and Bod masochistically asks for salt to be rubbed in (ouch) she adds, ‘Oh, it’s next to the HP sauce in the cupboard’.

Another scene of excessive street violence sees a group of feral youths kill an unnamed woman, string her up, and dance around her like a Maypole. While I am aware that this is also a pagan Scandinavian ritual, we tend to associate the Mayday parade and its fertility rituals with a quintessential Britishness.

A subversion of the Maypole

Such minuatie could only be found in UK cinema. Jordan’s iconic lip synch to Suzi Pinn’s opera/reggae mashup of Rule Britannia subverted the Union Jack dress long before Geri Halliwell donned it as a jingoistic statement. Jordan as Amyl Nitrate was pure burlesque: sexy, dangerous and grotesque.

At times, it is almost as if Jarman anticipated Brexit- there is a very funny and surreal scene of bingo, with lots of product placement like Heinz baked beans and Daz washing powder, being busted by the police for its illegal location.

Also worth noting is that the mute girl gang member, Chaos, in her black fetish wear, who does all the household chores and tightrope walks over a washing line to Edith Piaf’s Je Ne Regrette Rien , is the only French cast member, Hermine Dormariane.

What conclusion can be reached then? What was Derek Jarman saying here? That the UK would be fucked if war, pestilence and anarchy was allowed to flourish. Best hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. Who’s for fish and chips?

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