Flame in the Streets: confronting racism at work and at home

Flame in the Streets coverTense situations at home and at work during the painful adjustment to a multi-racial society in post-war Britain is the 1961 British film Flame in the Streets in a nutshell.

It sees a white trade unionist standing up to racism at work at the same time as having his own beliefs questioned by the news that his daughter is hoping to marry a Jamaican immigrant.

The film stars John Mills and is set over a few hours on Bonfire Night, November 5th. Made shortly after the 1958 Notting Hill race riots, it addresses racism head-on and still has very relevant echoes today.

Mills is brilliant in his role, especially with a passionate speech to a packed room of union members challenging people to admit that the reason they really oppose a colleague being given a permanent promotion is racism, with all the other reasons just excuses:

At home, Mills struggles between both loving and being disgusted by his wife and daughter at different moments.

At times the directing is a little slow, though the setting in early 1960s London always gives an interesting reminder of how London used to be and the variation in pace makes the moments of drama and tension that much more effective.

The body language in the very final moments is also very skillfully done, leaving the ending open to multiple interpretations.

The film itself is pretty obscure now. I came across it as part of a John Mills collection which I got for other titles, but it was an excellent bonus to stumble across this gem of a film. However, after a while only being available on DVD as part of that John Mills collection or a paired with another film about racism, it is now also available on its own.

However you get hold of it, it is an enjoyable and thought-provoking film.

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