Rita, Sue and Bob Too by playwright Andrea Dunbar took moments from her own life and put them into a revealing snapshot of 80s British working class life under a Tory government. Two Bradford teenage babysitters Rita (Siobhan Finneran) and Sue (Michelle Holmes) start a tryst with sexually frustrated suburban prisoner Bob (George Costigan). The young girls affair with the older married man is fun at first with liaisons on the moors, in show homes and to Black Lace gigs taking them from their impoverished home lives.
A stand out scene is when the whole affair is revealed to George’s snooty wife played with brilliant venomous hatred by Lesley Sharp in the amphitheatre like council block. With all sides throwing around swear words like prize fighter punches in front of a baying audience all chipping in their two cents that sends the girls into a world of racism, domestic violence & miscarriages.
The third film from Alan Clarke known mostly known for his TV drama work was a perfect choice to helm Rita, Sue… it that was something of a departure for him, as it was a story centered around female disenfranchised youth on the cusp of adulthood in the grim times of Thatcher’s Britain. A theme which he explored in a male centred gaze in Scum and Made in Britain starring Tim Roth. Rita, Sue and Bob Too made at the time newly formed Film 4 and shot on Super 16MM with a £800,000 budget. These parameters that Clarke worked in allowed him to truthfully photograph the world of the Buttershaw council estate in Bradford where the playwright Dunbar lived and wrote about using the steadycam to frame the story based on people she grew up around.
There must be praise given for how the late director cast the three leads Finneran, Holmes and Costigan who remain recognisable faces on UK television as do many of the supporting players all giving truthful pitch perfect performances. At the time of its release Rita, Sue and Bob Too garnered a less than favourable reaction from certain middle class press publications similar to that I, Daniel Blake received last year.
This 30th anniversary release from the BFI has now been restored from the original camera negative. The package also includes a trailer, photo galleries and a fascinating 69 minute documentary “Having A Ball”. This feature length extra discusses the films production and cultural impact with cast, crew, producers, academics, fans of the movie & Alan Clarke’s daughter who gives an interesting snap shot of growing up around her father. Rita, Sue and Bob Too may have dated badly in terms of its fashions but the frank humour & biting social commentary makes the film timeless and the work of the late Andrea Dunbar who died far too young relevant enough to still be performed in theatres to this day. It was a fun experience to rewatch this film again as it was a staple of early 90s channel 4 television when I got a TV in my bedroom as a kid that would stay up late watching all sorts of programming.
Dir: Alan Clarke
Scr: Andrea Dunbar (adapted from her plays The Arbor & Rita, Sue and Bob Too)
Prd: Sandy Lieberson, Patsy Pollock
Cast: Siobhan Finneran, Michelle Holmes, George Costigan, Lesley Sharp, Willie Ross
D.O.P: Ivan Strasburg
Music: Michael Kamen
Run time: 94 mins
Rita, Sue and Bob Too available on dual format now