PUBLISHED 11 JULY 2016
THE 1950s “Angry Young Man” - as depicted by John Osbourne in his play “Look Back in Anger” and the subsequent 1959 film adaptation of the same name - created a benchmark for the portrayal of working- and middle- class men in British cinema, representing protest, angst and a somewhat distorted view on society. The archetype of the angry man is evident in the more recent British films BRONSON (Nicolas Winding Refn 2008), THIS IS ENGLAND (Shane Meadows 2006) and DEAD MAN’S SHOES (Shane Meadows 2004). Each of the films showcase men experiencing a cocktail of emotions, masked by anger.
An angry man with a dream, Charles Bronson (Tom Hardy) just wants to be famous and he wants to do so from inside a prison cell. Bronson thrives on threatening people, whether it is police officers or the general public. Bronson looks like a typical “angry” man: he is bald, muscly and displays what seems like a permanently daunting and tense facial expression. He may have an angry personality and a bad temper yet it is apparent he also has a very playful nature, even when it comes to taunting the prison guards, covering himself in butter to aggravate the guards and slide free from their grip. The film plays out like a stage show, evoking Bronson’s playful nature as he performs to the audience with various gags and costumes. It is in these theatrical moments that his hunger for fame is most obvious.
In THIS IS ENGLAND, Combo (Stephen Graham) is a violent, racist skinhead fresh out of prison and the epitome of extreme racism and skinhead culture in Thatcher’s Britain. He brainwashes those around him with his racist beliefs and is extremely violent from the offset, even beating to a pulp one of his old friends because of his skin colour. Despite his violent nature, it is apparent that Combo is also sensitive. This is evident when he tries to give Lol (Vicky McClure) a gift and is then rejected by her. A moment when he breaks down crying is especially touching as it is juxtaposed by his skinhead appearance and aggressive personality. It is obvious that this angry man does have a caring side and in spite of his behaviour and his beliefs, we can clearly see that he puts his friends and people he cares about before himself.
In DEAD MAN'S SHOES, Richard (Paddy Considine) returns from serving as a paratrooper in the British Army. The story is told through flashbacks and it gradually unfolds that Richard’s younger brother Anthony (Tony Kebbel) was abused by a group of drug dealers who exploited his mental illness. To avenge his brother, Richard brutally kills each gang member. Richard also suffers from a mental illness and this is evoked through his irrational behaviour and what are revealed as hallucinations. Although the theme of vengeance is strongly presented from the start, small clues suggest that Richard may have been ashamed of his brother and that he may have joined the army to get away from him. His cocktail of emotions is dominated by the anger which he finds an outlet for in his vengeful actions.
In each of these films it is apparent that anger is a mask for deeper emotional feelings. Each of the men have insecurities whether it is to do with love or their own experiences and these films subtly unveil a sensitivity in these men behind their anger.