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Jubilee (1978)

Courtesy of Whaley Malin Productions Ltd

Main image of Jubilee (1978)
35mm, colour, 104 mins
DirectorDerek Jarman
Production CompaniesWhaley-Malin Productions
ProducersHoward Malin
 James Whaley
ScreenplayDerek Jarman
 James Whaley
PhotographyPeter Middleton

Cast: Jenny Runacre (Bod / Queen Elizabeth I); Nell Campbell (Crabs); Toyah Willcox (Mad); Jordan (Amyl Nitrite); Hermine Demoriane (Chaos); Ian Charleson (Angel); Karl Johnson (Sphinx)

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Queen Elizabeth I is magically transported four hundred years into the future and finds herself surveying the bleak urban landscapes of the punk generation.

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When Ariel appears to Queen Elizabeth the First in Jubilee (d. Derek Jarman, 1978) and announces "I come to answer thy best pleasure", one thinks of Jarman himself, whose alchemical vision often turned base metal into gold.

Where Jarman's previous film Sebastiane (co-d. Paul Humfress, 1976) still seems hard to date, Jubilee rings with the style and attitude of London circa 1978. Where Sebastiane was lyrical, Jubilee is rattled and rattling. In a bold move which prefigures Sally Potter's Orlando (1992), Jarman imagines Ariel leading the Queen (Jenny Runacre) into the "shadow of this time", to a decimated future where a band of violent punks rule the streets and a media mogul called Borgia Ginz runs the airwaves.

There is Mad (Toyah Willcox), a chunky, punky singer and pyromaniac, and Bod (Runacre again), whose hunger for killing men is her main distinction. Fallen ballerina Amyl Nitrate (Jordan) is writing "Teach Yourself History". A cherubic and giggly Adam Ant is introduced as Kid. They all give spirited performances, but none has enough stuff of living character to advance the narrative.

In a scene with all the chaotic frenzy of A Clockwork Orange (d. Stanley Kubrick, 1971), Bod attacks the waitress in the café and force-feeds her tomato ketchup. In another, Crabs, a female hustler, seduces and strangles her victim with a red plastic sheet and then dumps the body. It's not that these scenes aren't disturbing, more that they are not disturbing enough and Jarman keeps cutting away from the contemporary punk characters to the romantic pastoral of Tudor England or to the smug and hollow Borgia before any real development can occur.

There is trouble depicting didactic characters who spout things like "America is dead - it's never been alive", if there is no opposing viewpoint, just as a film about boredom ought to avoid being boring. Despite being told, "the music industry's dead", the punks still perform with extravagant enthusiasm for the person who's destroying the industry! And if "love snuffed it with the hippies", why then does Liz weep so when her lovers Sphinx and Angel get blown away by Special Branch in a bingo hall?

Jarman's critique of punk's paradoxes isn't deep or harsh enough - the film is urgent but confused. In the end, he seems intoxicated by his characters' anarchic bolshiness and the film's coherence suffers for it.

Cherry Smyth

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Video Clips
Elizabeth R (1971)
Charleson, Ian (1949-1990)
Jarman, Derek (1942-1994)
Priestley, Tom (1932-)