‘Pressure’ explores the realities of the Windrush generation

‘Pressure’ explores the realities of the Windrush generation | Soho House

Horace Ové’s debut is a stark depiction of Black Britons trying to find their place in an unaccepting society – and it’s as relevant today as it was in 1976

Saturday 11 November 2023   By Hanna Flint

A beautiful yellow house, complete with a red roof, white porch and luscious garden: this picturesque vignette is the first thing Horace Ové shows us in his seminal 1976 feature debut, Pressure. The camera lingers on this still image, the sound of birds singing, before the screen transitions with the call of seagulls, the crash of waves, into a tropical beach landscape. Finally, this transforms into a black and white illustration, the focus shifting to a family of three, the Watsons. The trio are shown on a boat, looking back just as the eponymous tune, penned by Ové and performed by Boy Wonder, kicks in.
In just 21 seconds, Ové tells you exactly what his film is all about: a deeply personal tale of the Windrush generation whose colourful life in Trinidad takes a sharp turn towards grey once they board that ship for England. The subsequent title sequence serves as a prelude to the main film, sketching out the Watsons’ attempts to build a life, before the arrival of their second child, in a country that only sees things in black and white. It’s through that grown-up baby, Tony (Herbert Norville), that Ové paints a vivid picture of the complex experience of second-generation Black British children caught between the cultures of their place of birth and ancestral heritage.
Nothing says kitchen sink drama quite like opening with a sizzling frying pan, filled with bacon and eggs. Tony’s mother, Bopsie (Lucita Lijertwood), is preparing him breakfast before he goes on yet another job interview. And unlike his family, he likes his food British. He likes everything British, in fact, and shows a quiet disdain for anything Caribbean. He turns down Sharon Forrester on the radio and gives his mother a sharp look; there’s a poster of Gary Glitter behind him on the wall – maybe one of the only images in the film that doesn’t hold up in the cold light of 2023 – and his older brother Colin (Oscar James), who is politically active with the Black Power movement, teases him about his lack of, well, Blackness.
There’s something rather amusing about Colin mocking Tony’s fry-up while he has avocado for breakfast. Long before avo on toast became the signature brunch order of white millennials, it was a staple breakfast item for Trinidadians, who could pick them off trees. ‘We only use it as an aperitif,’ Tony fires back. ‘You’ve been here long enough to know to eat the right food at the right time.’ Oh sweet, Tony, how times have changed. His steadfast commitment to British social and cultural norms makes for an enticing set-up for a gritty, nuanced and life-altering cinematic journey that slowly awakens him to the harsh reality of being Black in Britain.
From a deeply uncomfortable job interview with a white employer – who assumes he’s not from here and has a criminal record – to a racist white landlady who won’t let him into his white friend Sheila’s flat, Tony is met by covert and overt discrimination at every turn. ‘I’m starting to get the message,’ he tells his mother, but she won’t have it. She’s the immigrant mother who left everything behind because of the promise that a proper English education would give her sons the middle-class life she so desperately desires. 

Ové powerfully presents a cross-section of Black perspectives – and the tensions those differing ideas provoke. It’s remarkably non-judgemental, especially when it comes to Tony’s delinquent friends. When society pushes you into the cracks, deprives you of a decent education and working opportunities, what else are you meant to do but steal to survive? ‘I was tired of reading in the papers about young Blacks hanging around on street corners, mugging old ladies,’ Ové said in 1987. ‘Nobody tried to find out why they were doing it.’
In Pressure, Ové offers a potent reflection on how the extremities of internalised racism, systemic discrimination, media misrepresentation and cultural assimilation can manifest in one family – as well as an interracial community. That the release of his film – the UK’s first feature-length Black film – was delayed for three years because funders BFI were concerned about the harrowing depictions of police brutality proves just how groundbreaking it was. Pressure showcases the heavy burden felt by Black Britons to find their place in a society that demeans and dehumanises them – issues still experienced today. Despite that, it finds the space for the hope, joy, love, beauty and resilience that make up the very fabric of the Black community Ové came from, here and abroad.

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