1980s British pop musicals


Here’s part three of a year-long attempt to stop organising real film seasons (an often time-consuming and unrewarding thing to do) and just enjoy curating imaginary ones. It follows December’s Jean Genet film season and January’s Mark Hamill retrospective.

Guided by Kevin Donnelly’s Pop Music in British Cinema: A Chronicle, this selection of films argues that two decades after The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, early 80s punk & post-punk artists bands made good in lively low-budget docu-realist flicks, while established pop royalty foundered in leadenly-nostalgic fantasies.

Breaking Glass (1980)
The London punk scene is captured in this new wave musical in which Hazel O’Connor stars as Kate, the lead singer of the (fictional) rock group Breaking Glass. Kate’s ideals conflict with those of the streetwise hustler (Phil Daniels) who discovers her and develops her into a star.

Rude Boy (1980)
Part fiction, part rockumentary, Rude Boy tells the story of a young man who leaves his job in a Soho sex shop to become a roadie for The Clash.

Great Rock n Roll Swindle (1980)
Julien Temple’s mockumentary tells a stylised fictional account of the formation, rise and subsequent breakup of the Sex Pistols band, from the point of view of their then-manager Malcolm McLaren (“The Embezzler”).

Take It or Leave It (1981)
Madness star in a fictionalised version of their early days and rise to fame in this wonderfully dour Bronco Bullfrog-like slice of British realism.

The Wall (1982)
Bob Geldof stars as a rock musician driven mad by memories of school, his father’s death and the awful burden of being the lead singer of Pink Floyd. When I was 16 I loved this as much as I hate it now.

Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984)
Paul McCartney wrote and starred in this flop musical in which a rock star daydreams that he will be ruined unless he finds a missing master tape by midnight.

Absolute Beginners (1986)
In post-war London on the cusp of the 1960s, some dashing young things (and David Bowie) invent youth culture and experience race riots. Another mega-flop, I’m afraid.

It Couldn’t Happen Here (1988)
The Pet Shop Boys’ surreal comedy (featuring Barbara Windsor, Joss Ackland and Nescafe’s Gareth Hunt) is an arty tapestry of seaside ventriloquists, late night taxis, pop videos and existentialism. Watch it all here.