Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Liverpool: Days in the Life
a city on screen

Life as it was - and is - lived on Merseyside

Main image of Days in the Life

Liverpool has long boasted an array of world-class arts and cultural institutions, including the Walker, the Bluecoat, Tate Liverpool, the Liverpool Biennial and one of the finest and most extensive museum collections in the country. But the predominant image of the city and its people has been less associated with the rarefied culture of the arts than with a culture more firmly rooted in the everyday, whether sport, leisure, the world of work (or the lack of it), or the twin pillars of family and religion - themes which memorably converge in the long-running sitcom Bread (BBC, 1986-91). The defiant figure of Jean Boht's Ma Boswell, overseeing her tight-knit if rumbustious brood, draws on a popular characterisation of the city itself: a place shaped by a strong sense of community and solidarity.

To plot a 'Day in the Life' is thus to conjure the general from the particular; to distil a narrative of a place and its people by zoning in on the diverse practices of its those who inhabit its everyday landscapes. Terence Davies' celebrated films Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) and The Long Day Closes (1992) offer a richly evocative infusion of postwar childhood remembrances in an everyday working-class milieu of residential streets, the local pub and church, as well as the local picture house. While theatre and music halls provided the bulk of the entertainment in the nineteenth century, by the 1930s and '40s cinema was to become by far the most popular leisure activity amongst Liverpool's working classes.

Although the popularity of cinema as a form of mass entertainment has long since declined, sport has remained an important fixture in the everyday lives of many Liverpudlians, shaping much of the city's urban identity. Home of the Grand National, the world's greatest steeplechase, Aintree was also a leading venue for motor racing during the 1950s and '60s. Another important sport in the city's history, particularly amongst its immigrant communities, was boxing. Liverpool Stadium (demolished in the 1980s) was the first purpose-built boxing stadium in Britain. It is football, however, that remains the city's abiding sporting passion. Often likened to a religion (indeed Anfield, the home of Liverpool FC, has been described as Liverpool's 'third cathedral') football commands the fierce loyalty and devotion of fans of the city's two top league clubs, Liverpool and Everton.

One of the enduring facets of Scouse mythology - one that is well articulated in many films and television dramas based in Liverpool - is that, whatever the circumstances or trials of day-to-day living, the Scouser's innate and playful good humour will see him or her through. A good case in point is Margi Clarke's brassy Kirkby girl in Letter to Brezhnev (1985) . Such a characterisation epitomises a working-class sensibility which stood defiant in the face of unemployment and industrial decline. Once a vibrant port-city, its rhythms drawn from the hustle and bustle of a thriving industrial-maritime landscape, Liverpool in the 1970s and 80s reflected a markedly different social geography, shaped by the many economic and political upheavals it faced during this period. Keen to dispel some of the negative images of its recent history, the re-branded Liverpool of today is a city in which culture and leisure are the cornerstones of the new economy. The everyday mythologies culled from a century of film provide a fitting memorial to a city at work and play.

Les Roberts

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Children (1976)Children (1976)

The first part of the Terence Davies Trilogy

Thumbnail image of Clouds, The (1989)Clouds, The (1989)

Patrick Keiller's film-poem about a journey through England's North

Thumbnail image of Day in Liverpool, A (1929)Day in Liverpool, A (1929)

Liverpool travelogue, concentrating on the city's commercial side

Thumbnail image of Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988)Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988)

Terence Davies' two-part portrait of a working-class Liverpool family

Thumbnail image of Electrical Exhibition (c. 1930s)Electrical Exhibition (c. 1930s)

Amateur film showing a family holiday in Liverpool and Southport

Thumbnail image of Magnet, The (1950)Magnet, The (1950)

Lesser-known Ealing comedy about a young boy with a guilty conscience

Thumbnail image of Mitchell and Kenyon: Everton v. Liverpool (1902)Mitchell and Kenyon: Everton v. Liverpool (1902)

A record of a classic match, and of the people who attended

Thumbnail image of Mitchell and Kenyon: Newcastle United v. Liverpool (1901)Mitchell and Kenyon: Newcastle United v. Liverpool (1901)

An enthusiastic crowd watches a football match

Thumbnail image of Peggy Su! (1998)Peggy Su! (1998)

Romantic culture-clash comedy set in a Liverpudlian Chinese laundry

Thumbnail image of Pool of Life, The (1974-76)Pool of Life, The (1974-76)

Amateur film documenting life in Liverpool's Williamson Square

Thumbnail image of Tomorrow's Merseysiders (1974)Tomorrow's Merseysiders (1974)

Life around Liverpool and the tale of its two newspapers

Thumbnail image of Topical Budget 230-2: Liverpool Honours Heroes (1916)Topical Budget 230-2: Liverpool Honours Heroes (1916)

A ceremony for those who died at the front

Thumbnail image of Topical Budget 822-2: Liverpool May Day Celebrations (1927)Topical Budget 822-2: Liverpool May Day Celebrations (1927)

Various dignitaries await the start of the celebrations

Thumbnail image of Topical Budget 927-1: All Dressed Up (1929)Topical Budget 927-1: All Dressed Up (1929)

The May horse parade at Liverpool

Thumbnail image of Topical Budget 960-1: A Little Liveliness in Liverpool (1930)Topical Budget 960-1: A Little Liveliness in Liverpool (1930)

Chaotic scenes at a Liverpool students' rag race

Thumbnail image of Violent Playground (1958)Violent Playground (1958)

Powerful drama with Stanley Baker as a juvenile liaison officer

Thumbnail image of Family at War, A (1970-72)Family at War, A (1970-72)

Epic saga following a working-class Liverpool family from 1938 to 1945

Thumbnail image of Golden Vision, The (1968)Golden Vision, The (1968)

Witty Ken Loach drama-doc about obsessive Everton fans

Thumbnail image of Hillsborough (1996)Hillsborough (1996)

Powerful drama about the 1989 football stadium tragedy and its aftermath

Thumbnail image of Z Cars (1962-78)Z Cars (1962-78)

Groundbreaking cop drama introducing new grit and realism

Related Collections

Related People and Organisations