Set in Ladbroke Grove, West London, an area with a large Caribbean population since the 1950s, Pressure (d. Horace Ové, 1975) explores the assimilation (or otherwise) of Caribbean people into British society.
The film focuses on one black teenager, and his attempt to find his way in a white-dominated society. As Anthony's initially high hopes are repeatedly dashed - he cannot find work anywhere; potential employers treat him with suspicion because of his colour - his sense of alienation grows. While his family come from Trinidad, Anthony was born in Britain and is British. When a Black awareness meeting is violently raided by the police, and Anthony sees these 'organised forces of repression' at work, his political awakening begins.
Pressure is a product of its time, but the issues and themes it explores remain relevant to the black experience in Britain today, including the cycle of educational deprivation, poverty, unemployment and antisocial behaviour. The depiction of police harassment and the controversial 'sus' (suspicion) laws is echoed by the similar, and equally controversial, 'Stop and Search' policy of today. The film also explores media under-reporting and misrepresenting of black issues and protests.
The film is shot in a gritty realist style, with an often documentary feel. It convincingly captures the spirit of the 1970s, a pivotal period for race relations in Britain and the politicisation of a generation. The performances - from a cast including many non-professional actors - are also excellent.
What is surprising is how forthright and critical the film is of the British system, in what were very sensitive times. The police are presented as corrupt and overtly racist, indeed a casual racism seems to permeate all aspects of society. It is also critical of the black response, and isn't afraid to show friction within the Black community between those who are disillusioned, with little hope and content to exist on the dole and those who are politically active and fight for change, and between the older generation, content to know its place, not wanting to 'stir up trouble', and a younger generation willing to fight for its rights. Pressure remains a key Black British film, which helps to demonstrate how modern multi-cultural Britain was shaped.
*This film is available on BFI DVD. Joel Karamath has written an introduction to the film, and a discussion of some of its themes.