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Bronco Bullfrog (1969)

Courtesy of Barney Platts-Mills

Main image of Bronco Bullfrog (1969)
35mm, 86 min, black & white
DirectorBarney Platts-Mills
Production CompanyMaya Films
ProducerAndrew St. John
ScreenplayBarney Platts-Mills
CinematographyAdam Barker-Mill
EditorJonathan Gili

Cast: Del Walker (Del Quant); Anne Gooding (Irene Richardson); Sam Shepherd (Jo Saville, aka Bronco Bullfrog); Roy Haywood (Roy)

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A young couple who live in the overcrowded world of East End tower blocks and bomb sites are harassed by the simple lack of somewhere to be alone together.

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Barney Platts-Mills' debut feature stars an entirely non-professional cast of local teenagers from Stratford, East London.

The film grew out of a documentary, Everybody's An Actor Shakespeare Said (1968) made by Platts-Mills about the 'Playbarn' project run by veteran British theatre figure Joan Littlewood at the Theatre Royal in Stratford. The project aimed to divert local youths from loitering and petty crime and into creatively channelling their energy and imagination through acting and improvisation. Inspired by Littlewood, Platts-Mills encouraged the youths to come up with a story based on events taken from their own lives. These were used as the basis for Bronco Bullfrog. The young cast give the film an air of authenticity and their sometimes awkward, hesitant performances reflect adolescence in a non-contrived way.

The film treats its characters warmly and emphasises that their chosen courses of action - petty crime, delinquency, and in Del's case, elopement with Irene (which, since Irene was 15, would make Del guilty of abduction) - are determined by the limited choices they have.

The look of the film is reminiscent of the cinema verité/Free Cinema style which had ushered in the 1960s, but any sense of optimism suggested by such films is dashed. The mood of Bronco Bullfrog, shot in black and white against a backdrop of East End bombsites and the new brutalism of urban high-rise flats, closes the decade on a pessimistic note of limited horizons for its working-class protagonists.

As evidence that not all of London had been swinging in the 1960s, Bronco Bullfrog foreshadowed the 'no future' ethos which characterised the Punk movement of the mid-to-late-1970s. The film also anticipated the treatment of disaffected youth which became prevalent in British television dramas such as Mike Leigh's Meantime (Channel 4, tx. 1/12/1983).

Ian O'Sullivan

*This film is available on BFI DVD and Blu-ray.

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Video Clips
1. The break-in (1:04)
2. Jo at the B+B (2:11)
3. Irene and Del (2:37)
4. Mrs Richardson and Mr Walker (1:05)
Production stills
Boys in Brown (1949)
Cosh Boy (1953)
Kes (1969)
Withnail and I (1986)
Platts-Mills, Barney (1944-)
Social Realism
Teen Terrors On Film