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Tribe, The (1998)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Tribe, The (1998)
BBC Films/Deep City Films for BBC, tx. 21/6/1998
102 minutes, colour
DirectorStephen Poliakoff
ProducersAnita Overland
 George Faber
ScreenplayStephen Poliakoff
PhotographyWit Dabal

Cast: Joely Richardson (Emily); Jeremy Northam (Jamie); Emma Amos (Diana); Stephanie Buttle (Katrinna); Anna Friel (Lizzie)

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A young property developer is instructed to remove the tenants occupying a building in a rundown area of London. Uncovering a mysterious group of young people, he becomes increasingly drawn into their strange lifestyle.

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The Tribe sees writer/director Stephen Poliakoff exploring his favorite theme - how society and individuals cope with the effects of commerce and development in the name of progress. He returns to the city of London for the backdrop to this psychological drama, portraying a group of hedonistic individuals fighting to retain their home in the face of increasing pressure from a property company.

The drama explores the hidden mysteries and secrets behind the city's surface. As Emily tells Jamie at the beginning of his magical mystery tour, "I'm going to show you what's behind the fa├žade of a bland suburban street." Poliakoff questions how far a group of people can isolate themselves from conventional society. The Tribe taps into two major trends characteristic of the 1990s: the exploration of alternative modes of living, itself a reinterpretation of 1960s communal experiments, and the proliferation of religious cults. The film highlights the problems associated with cults who attempt to construct barriers around themselves to prevent intrusion into their private sphere. Unlike most cults, this one appears to have no particular religious doctrine, nor does it have a fanatical leader. Emily (Joely Richardson) is rational, articulate, beautiful and charismatic, but she does not appear to exert any sinister hold over her followers. The tribe members are willing young adults, experimenting with personal and sexual relationships. One evening, they watch images from the 1960s on television, featuring young people with 'free love' banners.

But these young idealists are more comfortable with the trappings of capitalism than their '60s forebears. Unapologetically, the members sell consumer goods - mobile phones, personal stereos - to finance their reclusive lifestyle. The tribe is a micro-society trying to overcome the intolerance and fear of others who refuse to accept its differences, but it is not afraid to use the tools of the oppressor to defend itself.

Stylistically, The Tribe demonstrates Poliakoff's customary visual flair. The expressionistic use of the colour red provides a formal and narrative link between characters, places and objects. Jamie's car, Emily's secret dress and the light in the house are all connected by this formal device, signifying the sense of danger that constantly surrounds the tribe.

Chris Allison

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Video Clips
1. Interview (2:45)
2. Induction day (3:02)
3. Free love (2:25)
4. Emily's bedroom (3:14)
5. Lizzy's departure (2:22)
Poliakoff, Stephen (1952-)
Rhys Meyers, Jonathan (1977-)
Richardson, Joely (1965-)