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Handsworth Songs (1986)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

Handsworth, Birmingham, 1985, the aftermath of the riots. Conservative Home Secretary Douglas Hurd visits a residential neighbourhood affected by riots. He is just one of several visitors to the devastated borough. Journalists, photographers and local politicians arrive looking for stories, angles and headlines. Local residents describe their experience and speculate on the causes of the riot.

1950s England. Scenes from the lives of new Caribbean immigrants: couples waltz at a tea dance, men labour on building sites, mothers look after children at home. A bus driver sets off to his new job, and on board a ship Lord Kitchener, sings a calypso. The ship is full of optimistic immigrants, young men and women armed with suitcases, children and passenger tickets. Back home in the Caribbean, workers toil in the fields.

Handsworth, 1985. Stories from older members of the Caribbean and Sikh communities. They talk about their disillusion with the police and also with the looters and rioters. The younger generation consider the riot an effective tool to prompt a reaction from those they see as responsible for their situation. On the streets a mixed community marches peacefully with flowers and wreathes in memory of two brothers who died in the riots.

London 1985. A funeral cortege for Cynthia Jarrett passes slowly through the streets. A television studio sets up a discussion programme between residents and politicians, while on the streets news teams again descend, in pursuit of the story of Floyd Jarrett and the death of his mother, Cynthia. An old man challenges Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to act to resolve the issues.

Scenes from Birmingham's history, including visits by the revolutionary American leader Malcolm X and John Tyndall, leader of the British National Front, photographs of an industrial past.

London 1985, a demonstration in support of Cherry Groce, a woman who was shot by police, makes its way through the streets. It is still good for a West Indian to come here, observes a man studying a huge machine, because nothing the living can do can destroy the rich culture of the past.

Handsworth 1985. An Asian woman walks across the dirt track of her neighbourhood, lost in her own world.