Alan Clarke remains one of the most influential British filmmakers of all time. His TV work includes the controversial original version of Scum (made into an equally fine big screen version with Ray Winstone reprising his TV role in 1979) and the hard-hitting drama about football hooliganism, The Firm, starring Gary Oldman.
Very much a hard-line version of Mike Leigh and perhaps Danny Boyle in an earlier incarnation, the BFI celebrated his work in a box-set chronicling his TV output, but it wasn't until 1987 that Clarke finally got some cinematic recognition with the bittersweet Comedy/Drama Rita, Sue And Bob Too. Thirty years on from its original release and now remastered on Blu-Ray, the film is ripe for reassessment in a post-Cameron, pre-Brexit context, although you sense that even today, the latter might have been something far from the minds of the principals on show in this film.
Set in Bradford, and adapted from Andrea Dunbar from her own play, which in itself was autobiographical showing elements of her upbringing, the title effectively tells the story of the main characters, feisty teenagers Rita (Siobhan Finneran) and Sue (Michelle Holmes), whose only means of escape from their mundane council estate is to babysit for a local couple, Bob (George Costigan) and Michelle (Lesley Sharp).
Bob isn't quite getting it all his way at home and one night after babysitting duties are over, he drives them to an isolated spot on the Moors and attempts to have sex with the two of them in his car. This is the start-off point for a complex three-way sexual awakening in all three, not to mention the suspicions of Michelle….
Although it has been classed as a reflection of 'Thatcher's Britain', the film actually pre-empts the current relationship frustrations that are defining the current Conservative context in the country. At it's heart, though, there is a refreshingly frank and honest, not to mention amusingly real representation of how awkward and believable the reality of sexual experiences can be, although you sense these two girls are more savvy about their knowledge than at first glance.
The performances of the three leads are excellent, particularly in the female bond between Rita and Sue and Costigan's portrayal of Bob captures the sleazy desperation of a man who isn't quite getting it lately in his marriage. Clarke frames the film with some elements that are of their time, but the honesty and clarity of the film comes through as effective as it did three decades earlier.
Rita, Sue And Bob Too is a likably sincere and teasing film. The profanity was a shock to the system for it's time like most period films, but today it adds a strength and honesty to a fine piece of British Cinema.
RITA, SUE AND BOB TOO (1987) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: ALAN CLARKE / SCREENPLAY: ANDREA DUNBAR / STARRING: MICHELLE HOLMES, SIOBHAN FINNERAN, GEORGE COSTIGAN, LESLEY SHARP / RELEASE DATE: 22ND MAY