Beverley: A Story of History and Identity

Rose Mason

Left to right: Cass Penant, Vicky McClure, Shane Meadows, Alexander Thomas

On Friday 6th March the Nottingham Alternative Film Network screened Beverley, a poignant short film by producer Cass Pennant and writer-director Alexander Thomas, at the White Lion pub in Beeston. This was an important film launch for NAFN, because it helped the network achieve three of its main goals: to celebrate local talent, increase the market for short films and increase the positive on-screen representation of both women and minority groups.

Set in Leicester in the 1980s, Beverley is a story of history and identity. It focusses on the trials and tribulations which the eponymous protagonist experiences as a Jamaican-English teenager in what was Leicester’s hostile and racially-charged surroundings. Cass and Alexander have drawn this concept from Beverley Thompson (the real-life inspiration for the protagonist), and what she had to tell them about the problems she faced as a teenager before “multicultural Britain” came into being.

The main character Bev and her family move out of Highfields – a run-down, yet community-orientated environment to a much whiter suburbia. There Bev feels she is a complete outsider. She feels she had to change who she is to fit in, and to find her own identity when everyone else around her seems so sure of theirs. So she becomes a “rudegirl.” But she still faces new battles of identity.

Her story is representative of the uncertainty that many mixed-heritage people experienced at this time. But it is also a homage to the two-tone movement (which it takes as a backdrop), and to what happened to Britain in the 80s – a period when many people were subscribing to an aspirational and affluent culture. This important part of British history shouldn’t be forgotten, and this was something which motivated the filmmakers during the short’s creation. They also wanted to engage a Midlands audience in recognising its part in this history.

During the 80s, racism was also clearly different, as holding negative views about other races was more part of the establishment’s way of thinking. But racism is still very subliminally present, which enables the short’s concept to remain extremely relevant – not just as a story, but as an outlook on racism too. In fact, the story is perhaps becoming even more applicable in the modern age, as more and more people live in a society where people’s parents are from different ethnicities or cultures, making them mixed-race like Bev.

The term “mixed-race” now also refers to many more identities than simply Jamaican-English, as it did in the 80s. The struggles of growing up with a mixed identity is therefore an important modern problem, making this short’s efforts to address this topic important. The film highlights the battle of choice which many mixed-heritage people experience, a battle which British cinema sometimes neglects; a battle which also caused the real Bev to question “was I black, was I white, was I both or was I neither?” Even now mixed-heritage children and teenagers, though they fit in with surroundings, face a question of which side to lean towards and which culture to choose.

Beverley’s discussion of this issue was terrifically received. And Cass and Alexander highlighted in the Q&A which followed that they believe anyone can relate to the short’s historical subject. Something also attested to by the fact that many people (often from the Midlands) chose to crowd-fund Beverley, which Cass defined as a process of “being made by the people for the people.” Using Indiegogo, this project managed to raise over £6,000, and this represented an important way for the team to bring their initial concept to life. It allowed them to break away from an industry which often underrepresents certain stories. As such, crowd-funding is a way to get concepts out there, and is changing the film industry in many ways. It can make film much more independent, and is a step towards true democratisation of British film culture.

But the producer also wanted to stress the importance of films like this being created outside of London. Without doing this, people both inside and outside the UK will under appreciate how important these subcultures, issues and struggles were outside the capital too. The problems shown in Beverly were UK problems, not just London problems. And Beverley proves that a film based elsewhere can appeal to a just as wide an audience.

Therefore, using Leicester as a source is an authentic way for a film like Beverley to provide a fresh, honest portrayal of British history. Moreover, Cass and Alexander said that the level of support for their film was also encouraging others to think about take filming and production outside of London. Despite the “strangle-hold” Cass said London has on the industry, he believed distributors are starting to think outside of London too and about engaging a much wider audience. The only thing holding back the region now, they felt, was a lack of crew (as many from the area have moved to London). This is something they and the Nottingham Alternative Film Network hope to change, and both are truly behind this mission every step of the way.

A real insight into the dedication and belief the Beverley team had in this project was then revealed by up-coming doc filmmaker Lee Cogswell’s ‘Making Of’ piece. This also gave the audience an opportunity to meet the real Beverley Thomson, and she spoke in her own words about her real-life experiences of growing up in a racially-charged Leicester. This documentary also expanded on themes in Beverley, such as a brief look at the powerful impact of third-wave ska music on the city’s skinheads.

The screening at the White Lion was one of Beverley’s first, but the aim is to take the short much further and to show it to as many audiences as possible, something NAFN hopes to help make a reality. Cass also now aims to get the short seen by the industry by getting it into the film festival circuit. You can help them make this a reality by clicking here and pledging your support (at the bottom of the page).

The White Lion (also the ever-supportive home of the Beeston Film Festival) is a great local pub, and for the night in question its upstairs function room had been converted into an atmospheric cinema. It had that old-style feel that The Savoy has, thanks to the red velvet upholstered seats and blacked out windows. The event itself was also hugely successful, thanks to around 90 people turning out to support the screening. The impressively large turnout also showed that NAFN is already managing to connect people with unique films in Nottingham, and connect the city’s great talents with its community too. Nottingham too can boast and host great art, so watch this space!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s