Last year BFI compiled a mammoth set of Alan Clark’s work, which was done exclusively for BBC television. It’s the majority of his career output, with Made in Britain (done for ITV), the feature version of Scum, and Rita, Sue and Bob Too being the most obvious omissions. However, BFI has now released Rita, Sue and Bob Too –although I really wish they hadn’t, because it seriously taints Alan Clarke’s oeuvre.
Clarke is primarily remembered for his incredibly stark and increasingly minimalist TV dramas, often dealing with violence of some kind. His masterful Elephant within 40 minutes depicts 18 murders in a series of long takes with little dialogue and no explanation. Gus Van Sant’s film of the same name used this approach to comment on Columbine, but isn’t nearly as successful. Rita, Sue and Bob Too is an exception, an extremely frothy sex “comedy” about working-class life in Bradford. Clarke’s films tended to deal with working-class life, but he wasn’t known for comedy.
Rita, Sue and Bob Too is basically about Bob, who cheats on his long-suffering wife with schoolgirls (final year), so in turn he is a paedophile. He drives Sue and Rita to the Moors to have sex with him, they take turns. The recent media blitz over the death of Ian Brady makes the location even more creepy.
The rest of the film is about the girls sleeping with him, and him being basically a lying husband who is into teenage girls. The girls get slut-shamed by their fellow students, and eventually one of them ends up going with a local Pakistan lad. One of the film’s biggest problems to a more modern audience is how casually the word “paki” is used: she calls him a paki to his face, proclaiming “I have never been out with a paki before.” There is another awful scene of racism where Sue’s alcoholic father shouts racist abuse at her new boyfriend. Yes, the meaning of the word has changed over the last 30 years, etc., but even back in the ‘80s it was used in the same way it is today. The characters never have any consequences for their racist language and don’t seem to have anything to say about it. It’s totally different to another film from around the same time, My Beautiful Laundrette, which deals with racism in Thatcher Britain in a nuance and intelligent way.
The bawdy humour I didn’t enjoy, in fact I didn’t laugh once during the film’s entire 93-minute running time. The most amusing part is the legendary scene with Black Lace performing “Gang Bang” in a local working man’s club. I’m not afraid to admit it, I’ve been on stage with Black Lace (minus the former member who ended up being a paedophile, the other is just a benefit fraudster) while they performed said song in a highly intoxicated state at my local pub, The Brudenell Social Club.
Rita, Sue and Bob Too is an extremely dated film, bordering on the creepy and offensive, which depicts some of the very worst of working class life. The three are extremely dreadful and unengaging performers who all ended up in the world of soaps and TV drama. From a historic point of view it’s kind of interesting, because for the most part it’s a mighty white depiction of life in and around Bradford, which of course is now known for a large Asian community. The disc contains a 70-minute documentary on the film and a booklet.