Films like this remind you that all you need is a camera and an idea. It’s an inspiring thought. This is a microbudget work of passion predicated on the need to express anger, righteous anger, at the state of modern Britain. Specifically, the focus is on the cruelty done to the working class: a legacy of inequality and oppression that has led to an explosion of hatred and despair. It is an unvarnished tale, one not interested in making its protagonist appealing, one interested in showing things how they are. It is the ugly face of poverty, the ugly face of desperation.
If you’ve seen Brassed Off (1996), one scene will be forever stamped on your memory: one of the working class protagonists ends up having to play a clown at a child’s birthday party, a performance that culminates in a brutal monologue about his hatred of the Tories. Nobody Loves You is a film created in that register, a work that takes that very specifically Northern anger at the Conservatives and forges a movie out of it. The twist here is the genesis of this rage: first time feature filmmaker, Brett Gregory, uses the COVID-19 pandemic as a catalysing point. The initial lockdowns forced solitude on so many, and led to all kinds of reflection and soul searching. For those already isolated, already weighed on by a callous system, this is the start (or another step in a long running journey) of real entrenched misery. It is the beginning of the end.
Our scene is set in Greater Manchester (an area I live just outside of), and we focus on an ex-English teacher with nothing left in their life but sorrow and regret. The film takes us, by way of linking monologues, through the life of this man. Before we flashback to the past, though, we start by showcasing the present: evocative shots of Manchester establishing a firm sense of place and time. There is a surrealist inflection, equipped with the introduction of allusions to classical art and literature that will become recurring motifs. The film is at its best when the visual material is more ethereal, a dreamlike haze to expose a real nightmare. A late film sequence of faces tattooed onto a body, closeups on tensing muscles making them look almost alive, gives a real sense of profundity. These inked on visages are forever stuck in one way, contorted into an approximation of life but truly lifeless. At this point in the film, it so wonderfully echoes the suffering we’ve witnessed, distilling it into visual poetry.
The monologues are impactful. There’s a crudeness at points, a roughness, but this links to its independent and microbudget origins, and does accentuate the film’s blunt rage (its most powerful tool). After all, this is about the downtrodden, those not allowed to flourish or succeed. The film’s rough edges are additive to its overall effect, allowing it to work as a cry of anger. It feels urgent, ripped straight from the heart. The more mythic moments are interesting, pushing towards literary and wider artistic sources in compelling ways. Ultimately, these parts don’t wholly coalesce, but the wider arc of the film gets a lot from these inflections. It is a film of monologues and the nods to the Classical or theatrical make sense here, reflecting a history of how art is used to reflect suffering. A number of texts are referenced along the way, reminding us of this, of where art can be pointed but also of its limitations.
Musically, the film is quite powerful. Andrew McCrorie-Shand’s score sets and maintains the tone well, the sounds match the pain and link in with the more theatrical aspirations. This wider language, both visual and aural, gives the work a feel of the tragic (in the literary sense of the word). We know what we are watching can only go one way, and the film has a political clarity that guides the viewer well. In the end, we are not supposed to love this main character, perhaps not even like them. Instead, we are accurately shown how a country’s systems create prisons, a state of lockdown before COVID that was only exacerbated in horrendous ways. Gregory’s film doesn’t shy away from the rougher parts of the identities it represents (showcasing racism and further prejudices) but intelligently shows this outpouring of hate as systemically created. The injustice forced onto these people overspills and is thrown out further; after all, throwing it back will do nothing (your oppressors are so far out of reach). In the end, hate trickles down.
Yet, a touch of wider representation would perhaps aid the film. The focus is very specifically on a type of person (one is reminded of fall of the supposed Red Wall in the 2019 general election, a real victory for oppressors who have made those they oppress see them as potential saviours); it is a very worthwhile focus, and it is well used. Though, seeing certain people on screen, as opposed to only hearing about them through vitriol and hate (sentiments that are definitively unendorsed by the film) would bring something.
This narrow portrait is effectively suffocating though. We are locked in with one character, forced to bear witness to their suffering. The film makes apt jibes at political moments, and figures, but doesn’t let these overwhelm. The background is clear: the societal lie of social progress, started by the Tories, aided by New Labour and finalised by the current regime. While the already fortunate ride successive successes, those already downtrodden become further entrenched in misery. Every step forward is counteracted by a political manoeuvre. And so, at the centre of this film is anger. At the centre of this film is rage and destruction. The consequences of all of this are negative and widespread, one person’s tragedy also trickles down. Yes, we witness one man, but through him the filmmakers cleverly showcase a system, a well positioned portrait that focuses on the oppressed. It is a difficult watch, and though imperfectly expressed, it captures something very real with notable clarity. It is a work of real worth, a reminder of the importance of independent cinema, of people out there with cameras and ideas. The people who can really show us how things are.