UK drama Us and Them takes on class warfare
“My best friend actually died of like an accident or drug overdose,” explains Joe Martin, writer and director of the sociopolitical dark comedy/thriller Us and Them, his first non-documentary feature. “Some of the reporting was just very stereotypical.”
“He came from a tough background, and the reporting of it was quite judgmental. I had decided in my head, ‘Well, he was actually really talented and had done really well, and he’d overcome a lot, and if half the people that passed judgment had come from a similar background as him, I’m sure they would’ve done a lot worse.’ That was the beginning of writing the film.”
Then, in 2011, what began as a protest of the controversial shooting death of 29-year-old Mark Duggan eventually became violent, class-related civil unrest, with riots and looting all over the London metro area and beyond. The disturbances displayed interesting features. Working-class whites and blacks had formed a coalition of commonality. They were both poor.
“I always thought that even if people are stealing stuff, they’re still burning down the cities that they live in, right? That shows the lack of connection with your environment, and your society, you know? You shouldn’t just dismiss an action because it fits your ideology. There’s always more to read into it.”
Us and Them takes direct aim at these economic inequalities, which in large part boosted the UK political right’s Brexit efforts and Trump’s election victory. Martin and the film appear prescient in thought and execution: “We made this before Brexit. So now it looks like, ‘Oh yeah, of course it was going to happen.’”
Danny (played by the talented Jack Roth, son of noted actor Tim Roth) is thoroughly frustrated about his lot in life, while watching trust-fund children and undeserving heirs proceed onward in their lavish bubbles. He convinces some of his working-class friends to partake in what they believe will be attacks of wealthy one-percenters, to be broadcast on the web. However, as usual, plans go awry, and motivations change. In short order, Danny realizes the depths of what he’s up against. Betrayals and violence soon follow.
“What I’ve seen of politics, in left-wing England, is any time anything gets going where it looks like, ‘Oh, this could actually help,’ or, ‘This could solve something,’ it just gets sort of ruined by self-interests,” explains Martin.
There was a particular focus on using a white-only cast to prevent, as Martin suggests, a tendency to focus on race, versus investigating the broader economic issues through the film – a tricky proposition that can illuminate blind spots.
“I remember, I was saying to people, ‘There’s something not right in this country,’” says Martin. “There’s a real undercurrent of anger bubbling under the surface, and it’s just going to come out.”
Perhaps the revolution is being televised after all.
Us and Them
NARRATIVE SPOTLIGHTFriday, March 10, 7:30pm, Alamo South Lamar
Saturday, March 11, 7:15pm, Alamo South Lamar
Tuesday, March 14, 11:15am, Alamo Ritz