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Essentially British?: I'm British But... (1989)
In the Classroom


Why not start with the credit sequence? Can students identify the songs that are played (Land of Hope and Glory followed by Rule Britannia)? When do these unofficial national anthems date from and what do they tell us about the period in which they were sung (you might want to provide students with the lyrics)? Why might the director have chosen to reference these songs at the beginning of the film?

I'm British But... deals with issues of regional, ethnic and religious identity throughout the film. What do students know about the formation of the United Kingdom? How has the social, cultural, religious and ethnic make-up of the UK changed since the 1950s?

Emigration is another theme. Play students the film from around four minutes in where the interviewees begin to talk about how their families came to live in the UK. What can students learn about the reasons why people emigrated to the UK? What can they infer about the experience of Asian immigrants in the 1960s? For fiction films looking at British-Asian experiences in the UK, why not browse through Screenonline's British-Asian Cinema collection.

Springtime in an English Village (1948) and Return to Life (1960) would also compliment this film as part of a wider unit of work on immigration to Britain in the past.

Alternatively, the film could form part of a longer unit of work on the British Empire and India or Indian independence. Start by analysing the lyrics of the song sung by the Bhangra group who appear throughout the film. What does the song tell us about the links between 'Punjab' and the UK - ie. the song mentions 'Jallianwalla Bagh', the location of the Amritsar massacre of 1919. What do students know about the relationship between India and the UK, what can they infer about this relationship from the rest of the film (or selected sequences)?

Useful films for comparison

  • Bradford Coronation Procession (1902): this short film hints at role of Empire in defining the British identity at the turn of the century. England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland take pride of place in this coronation procession in honour of Edward VII.
  • Springtime in an English Village (1948): offers a good example of the how the British government of the 1940s wanted to portray the UK abroad and can be used a springboard for looking at the reasons for immigration to the UK from the 1940s onwards.
  • Return to Life (1960): made during World Refugee Year, this film looks at the experiences of Eastern European refugees adapting to life in the UK
  • Think of England (1999), Clip two: this looks at the 'north-south divide' - a good way of extending students' thinking in relation to the relationship between the different regions.


A gift to Citizenship teachers, I'm British But... picks up on a whole host of themes, in particular, the origins and implications of the diverse national, regional, religious and ethnic identities in the UK and the ways in which Asian and British cultures have influenced each other.

What can students learn from the film about the differences in the experiences of first and second-generation immigrants to the UK? The interviewees talk in great detail about their plural identities - why not use the film to encourage your students to think about how they define themselves.

The Bhangra song (performed by the group who appear throughout the film) offers a good way into exploring some of the more complex issues surrounding emigration and immigration. What seems to be the contradiction at the heart of the song and what do the lyrics imply about the challenges faced by some immigrants in the UK? What can we infer from the song and the observations of the interviewees about why cultural differences can lead to misunderstanding and even conflict? How can misunderstanding and conflict be avoided?

Useful films for comparison

  • Springtime in an English Village (1948): compare a government backed film with the more personal, reflective approach of I'm British But...
  • Return to Life (1960): an extremely sympathetic Central Office of Information film dealing with the experiences of Eastern European refugees adapting to life in the UK.
  • Think of England (1999), Clip two: this looks at the 'north-south divide' - a good way of extending students' thinking beyond the relationship between the regions.
  • White Tribe (2000) Clip two: Darcus alludes to divisions of race and class as he watches a local hunt in Northumberland.