Dir: Alan Clarke, 1986
Stylised on the UK poster and home video releases as Rita, Sue And Bob Too!, Alan Clarke’s comedy/drama about two schoolgirl tarts, is an hilarious and vulgar show of a mid-eighties Britain, and it’s excesses.
Working class teenagers Rita (Siobhan Finneran) and Sue (Michelle Holmes), reside on a rundown council estate in Bradford, making a few quid here and there by babysitting. Middle class Bob (George Costigan), takes advantage of the girls and the three embark on an affair, jeopardising Bob’s marriage and the pairs friendship, with the possibility of being unwed teenage mums.
It’s highly surprising how well this fared overseas. Quintessentially English, Rita, Sue And Bob Too is a defining moment in British cinema.
Director Clarke, shoots a grim and realistic depiction of working class life in the doldrums of the estates. Alcoholism and crime are the norm, with no chance of progressing in the world, it’s all a reflection of Thatcher’s Britain.
Finneran and Holmes are superb as the tarty schoolgirls, with Costigan equally as good as the sleazy Bob, asking the friends if they know what an erection is before, proudly, showing them.
Harking back to the days of the “kitchen sink drama”, this is more “kitchen sink comedy”, with echoes of A Taste Of Honey and Saturday Night And Sunday Morning. Refusing to adhere to the “accepted” way of writing dialogue, the film embraces its Yorkshire origins and employs colloquialisms utilised by that part of the country.
The films themes of upward mobility, unemployment and dead end futures are still as relevant today as they were in 1986. Rita, Sue And Bob Too is as fresh now as it was thirty years ago. Only the fashion has changed. Whereas Bob drives a Ford Capri, further strengthening his middle class status, people of 2017 drive Audis and Range Rovers.
In this respect, the film is timeless. However, some of the humour and language is at odds with today’s more enlightened and sensitive ears, firmly cementing the movie in the 80’s.
Sue’s persistently pissed dad, has the best line in the whole film. Bringing an Asian boyfriend home (Goodness Gracious Me‘s Kulvinder Ghir), her dad threatens to knock his “black brains out”. Defending himself with “I can’t help being a Paki!”, the dad replies with “you fucking can!”.
The language used, is reflective of a time when “Paki” wasn’t deemed offensive. It was, merely, a shortening of Pakistani, in much the same way as Brit is used for British or Britain.
There’s no denying that the context is deliberately offensive, and the character racist, but it’s the Alf Garnett thing; you laugh at him, not with him. The statement itself is absurd. How can he help being Asian? Totally ridiculous.
It’s inevitable that elements of the film would become dated. The soundtrack is terrible, with the main theme just a repetition of the lines “Rita, Sue And Bob Too”. Cheesy pop band, Black Lace, make an appearance as the turn in the pub, bringing the house down with a rendition of We’re Having A Gangbang.
Director Clarke, doesn’t need to take a heavy handed approach, here, allowing things to play out, naturally. Injecting some much needed drama into the piece, the film tackles a range of issues, handling them delicately. Domestic abuse, poverty, unwanted pregnancy, racism and alcoholism. Unwisely, Clarke treats sex in a lackadaisical manner. For a time when society was becoming more aware of AIDS and HIV, the depiction of carefree sex is surprising. Bob uses the same condom to shag both girls. The health implications are enormous.
As funny as it is, Rita, Sue And Bob Too lacks the lightheadedness needed to be re-watchable. The comedy is down to earth, and gives the film a rather sombre and, somewhat, depressing tone, but that’s the norm for an Alan Clarke film.
Enjoyable and with verisimilitude, the saucy romp is a winner that will, doubtlessly, remain on the list of top British films.