The British New Wave is a genre of films and filmmaking which emerged during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. The term is derived from the French phrase ‘nouvelle vague’ which means ‘New Wave’. The new wave films originated in France with the works of François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard gathering a movement called French New Wave.
New Wave of Britain
The British New Wave films were inspired by the lower classes of British society. It is highly influenced by the French nouvelle vague and carries similar cinematic styles. These movies celebrated and glamorized the working classes and gave them a mantel for representation in mainstream media. The daily struggles that the workingmen classes go through, their aspirations, dreams and their lives are the main focus of the new wave films.
Earlier these very elements were often ignored. The working classes were portrayed in terms of comedy and humour. Thus, they were reduced to mere objects which were used for the entertainment of others and thus, stripped of their values as human beings. The new wave represented them as human beings with feelings and aspirations. It gave the working classes a voice in the backdrop of the economic rise of these classes.
Generally, filmed in black and white the films were spontaneous and are not shot in studios. This was a big break from typical mainstream feature film, shot in real locations in a documentary style with real people. Thus, it gives a very realistic imagery of the lives of the people involved. They are the protagonists in the film and the story revolves around them. Their emotions are displayed vividly. They are not ‘extras’ or secondary characters but in fact people with real emotions and feelings.
British New Wave Films
These new wave films have literary offshoots. A whole genre of literature has been influenced by these films. However, they died out by 1960. This is probably because the British new wave was pretty short-lived as well. The first new wave movie, ‘Room at the Top’, came out in 1959 and the last one came out in 1963.
There two main themes in the new wave films:
- Class structure and its restrictions
- Unplanned pregnancies
The movie, ‘A Kind of Loving’, includes both the themes. The characters, Vic and Ingrid, have to struggle to keep their marriage under wraps.
Another breakthrough is the on-location shooting in the Midlands of North Britain. Thus, many of the restrictions that a studio placed were negated. Films which were released later also portrayed conflicts within the working classes. The focus was on ‘rough’, working people who were daily wage earners. They were juxtaposed against the upper working classes.
Debates & Controversy
The debates around the British new wave films are complex. They include debates on class and class conflicts, social systems and change, the essentials of power and how the mind influences the social and economic order. Professor Peter Hutchings wrote an article called ‘Beyond the New Wave: Realism in British Cinema, 1959-1963’, which addresses imagery and representation in the new wave films. He suggests that realism was spread in these crucial years across time and space in the various genres and range of films. One of the main reasons why these movies were so popular and well received is because the themes of anti-establishment often ran into them.
Thus, British New Wave films were revolutionary in attitudes and representation. They brought the poor and the working class into mainstream cinema and glamorized their struggles and lives. Despites its short span, it influenced various genres of film and literature.