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Hard Feelings (1984)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Hard Feelings (1984)
For Play for Today, BBC1, tx. 20/3/1984
85 minutes, colour
Directed byMike Bradwell
ProducerMichael Wearing
Written byDoug Lucie

Cast: Frances Barber (Viv); Chris Jury (Baz); Diana Katis (Annie); Jennifer Landor (Jane); Ian Reddington (Rusty); Stephen Tiller (Tone)

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A group of upper-middle-class former Oxford University students sharing a flat in Brixton fall into ugly infighting when one of them brings her working-class rebel boyfriend home.

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Doug Lucie's class-conflict drama captures a style-obsessed, politically polarised early 1980s - specifically Brixton, Spring 1981, a time when one section of urban British youth preened and indulged itself (this was the age of the New Romantics) while another engaged in street battles with the police, prompted by the apparently indiscriminate arrests of black youths in the Metropolitan Police's notorious Operation Swamp.

Well received in its original stage incarnation (opening at Oxford Playhouse in November 1982), 'Hard Feelings' got a cooler reaction when it reappeared in the BBC's waning Play for Today (1970-84) some 16 months later, with the events that serve as its background already fading into history. Viewed today, though, the play seems a flawed but fascinating time capsule, evoking not just the urban unrest of early 'Thatcher's Britain' but the superficial provocations of early 1980s fashion.

'Hard Feelings' gives us a houseful of privileged Oxford graduates overseen by the neurotic, capricious Viv (de facto leader by virtue of her parents' owning the house): dim but spiteful would-be artist and model Annie; her boyfriend Rusty, in his imagination a style icon and pop rebel, in reality the sponging son of a tabloid proprietor; and determined fence-sitter Baz, who alone of this clique tempers his self-obsession with self-knowledge; on the periphery of the group is Jane, a trainee solicitor whose studiousness is at odds with the others' drink- and drug-fuelled hedonism.

From the outset, the Jewish Jane is the victim of Annie's bitchy antisemitism, but her persecution escalates with the arrival of her new boyfriend, Tone. A working-class journalist and left-wing agitator, Tone is contemptuous of Viv's bourgeois aspirations and of her parasitic followers. Wounded by Tone's attacks, Viv leads a vendetta against Jane, which reaches its peak with the unveiling of a "really forties" (the "next big thing", according to Annie) montage of Hitler which Annie hangs in the living room, and which even the more level-headed Baz (secretly in love with Jane) commends as "very interesting".

'Hard Feelings' is in some ways a counterpart to Trevor Griffiths' Oi for England (ITV, tx. 17/4/1982), which also used urban unrest (the July 1981 Moss Side riots) as an off-screen backdrop to its characters' private battles. But it's hard to resist comparison with the equally brattish housemates of the alternative comedy sitcom The Young Ones (BBC, 1982-84), which first aired a few days after 'Hard Feelings' had its stage premiere.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. I only live here (3:30)
2. Fade to grey (2:11)
3. They've ruined my song (3:02)
4. Freedom to rot (5:59)
5. Very forties (2:44)
Oi For England (1982)
Wearing, Michael (1939- )
Play for Today (1970-84)