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The British Hero by Michael Brooke
Introduction Stiff Upper Lips Working-Class Heroes Heroic Outsiders Heroic Failures The Antihero
Historical Heroes Literary Heroes Cultural Heroes Local Heroes    
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Heroic Outsiders
Still from My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

In addition to championing the working-class hero, British cinema has also depicted heroic triumphs over far greater obstacles.

Chariots of Fire (1981) is often seen as a quintessentially Establishment film, though a closer look reveals something quite different, as both the Jewish Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) and the devoutly religious Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) are outsiders who triumph over the prejudices of British society by triumphing in the egalitarian Olympic Games.

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) mischievously acknowledges Thatcherite free enterprise via the story of a gay couple made up of a Pakistani and a white National Front activist, while Pressure (1975) and Babylon (1980) are about second-generation West Indian immigrants who refuse to accept the lowly status assigned them by the prejudices of a largely white society, shown as being the major obstacle to their chances of achieving their ambitions. This is even more true of Dirk Bogarde's gay barrister in Victim (1961), who decides to sacrifice his marriage and career in order to foil a blackmail plot. This was an especially heroic gesture at the time, as homosexuality was still a criminal offence.

More recently, Sixth Happiness (1997) was about a triple outsider as far as mainstream British audiences were concerned: Indian, gay and profoundly disabled, but who surmounts these hurdles thanks to a winning performance by Firdaus Kanga, essentially playing himself in a film adapted from his own autobiographical novel.

Though the casting of a genuinely disabled actor was relatively new, films about disability certainly weren't, with diverse examples including Mandy (1952), Reach for the Sky (1956), Tommy (1975), A Fish Called Wanda (1988) and My Left Foot (1989). It's not necessarily the disabled character who is portrayed as heroic - in the case of the deaf-mute Mandy, her mother's willingness to fight her corner (even to the point of splitting their family) comfortably qualifies.

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