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Bloody Kids (1980)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Bloody Kids (1980)
ITV tx 23/3/1980, colour
DirectorStephen Frears
ProductionBlack Lion Films
CompaniesITC Entertainment
ProducerBarry Hanson
ScriptCaroline Embling
 Stephen Poliakoff
PhotographyChris Menges
MusicGeorge Fenton

Cast: Derrick O'Connor (Richie), Gary Holton (Ken), Richard Thomas (Leo), Peter Clark (Mike), Gwyneth Strong (Jan), Caroline Embling (Susan)

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Two young boys enact a mock fight outside a football ground as a joke, but it goes wrong when one of them is injured. While the victim recovers in hospital, the other boy attempts to hide from the police.

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Uniting two leading lights of British film and television over the past three decades, director Stephen Frears and writer Stephen Poliakoff, Bloody Kids (ITV, tx. 23/3/1980) is a powerful and disturbing drama exploring youth alienation in an Essex seaside town in the late 1970s. Leo (Richard Thomas) and Mike (Derrick O'Connor) are two young boys who act out their television fantasies of cops and robbers. The premise is the staging of a mock knife fight, which goes wrong when Leo is actually stabbed.

Thereafter, the story adopts the familiar device of a character on the run from the authorities, allowing Poliakoff and Frears to explore their concerns with contemporary Britain. The drama proffers a damning indictment of the state of the nation at the end of a socially disruptive decade.

Bloody Kids is an exploration of voyeurism, of watching and being watched. Leo creeps round his environment, observing and eavesdropping on conversations. In the opening scene, he is fascinated by the activity and confusion following a road accident. Later, he peers into a police station, unaware that he is being watched by a police officer on a bank of new surveillance equipment. Poliakoff and Frears highlight the ubiquity of television in contemporary Britain. At the hospital, a communal TV constantly broadcasts police and medical dramas. CCTV and surveillance technology are pervasive: in the police station and overseeing the streets around the town centre.

The police appear overworked, unable to cope with the demands of modern Britain. Throughout the opening scene, a policeman rests in his car, exhausted, while the confusion continues around him. Later, the senior officer tells Leo "this is no job for a grown man". Leo seems to enjoy deceiving the authorities, hindering their operations and mocking their vain attempts to capture Mike.

The film displays an unusual energy and visual style, creating a fictional world both familiar and yet mysteriously foreign. Frears draws on iconography from American film noir, mostly shooting in a brooding darkness occasionally illuminated by the neon signs of amusement arcades, the strobes of a disco or the flashing lights of police cars and ambulances. George Fenton's music heightens this atmosphere.

Stylistically, the film is expressionistic, largely eschewing traditional British realism. Scenes are imbued with a hallucinatory quality, reminiscent of European art cinema. The final scene, showing the evacuation of the hospital with artful slow-motion effects, is particularly dreamlike.

Chris Allison

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Video Clips
1. The plan (4:55)
2. 'Something extraordinary' (2:08)
3. 'Trust me' (1:32)
4. Mike's return (2:43)
Production stills
Fenton, George (1950-)
Frears, Stephen (1941-)
James, Geraldine (1950-)
Menges, Chris (1940-)
Poliakoff, Stephen (1952-)