Right-wing extremists in the UK are targeting east European migrants, whipping up what could soon become race riots. New forms of populist repression masquerade as protection of a fictive idea Englishness, all ploughman’s lunches and chirpy cockneys. It is nonsense: shameful and detestable nonsense.
Fleeing from the Ukraine, the Winogradsky brothers - founding figure in British commercial TV Lew Grade, theatrical impresario Bernard Delfont and leading talent agent Leslie Grade – changed the face of UK culture. Among its many credits, Lew Grade’s ITC company produced the hit TV series The Adventures of Robin Hood, penned by a group of screenwriters who had all been blacklisted by the McCarthy HUAC hearings.
Also exiled by the Hollywood anti-communist witch-hunt, Joseph Losey would direct scalpel-sharp accounts of British life in The Go Between, King and Country and The Servant (from Pinter’s haunting script).
Another group of brothers, this time from Hungary, the Kordas Alexander, Zoltan and Vincent, between them produced, directed and designed films including The Private Life of Henry VIII, The Thief of Baghdad and Things To Come.
More recently and in more specialist realms, animators The Brothers Quay and film essayist John Akomfrah are among the many migrants who have created irreplaceable parts of British film culture.
Culture, especially film culture, is not insular; and the old saw ‘What does he know of England, who only England knows’. In the case of our politicians, it would appear that they know only protected nooks of rural privilege and gated urban enclaves. Jerzy Skolimowski’s London films Deep End and Moonlighting are among those great films, at which the Poles seem to excel, portraying the fermenting diversities and sufferings that politicians deny, beneath the official monoculture.
Among its many virtues, film, like the other great arts, cannot help protesting against the untruth of dominant ideologies. It cannot help its disgust at the accountancy that passes for political reason.
The names mentioned here have, along with hundreds of other musicians, painters, writers, performers and thinkers have sought sanctuary in this country from poverty and oppression, and in return given us the brilliant insights of the resident stranger, even as they cast a cool or passionate eye on their cultures of origin. They have made what is best about 21st century England.
It is with the deepest shame that we in England observe our obsequious ‘leaders’ descending into foaming xenophobia. Economic recession always did breed fascism. We need our free migratory film cultures now as much as we did in the darkest days of the 1930s.