That horrid corruptibility of the soul under the thick and ignorant ruling of powers that be and don’t understand the desires and hunger of the working-class soul is framed particularly dementedly in Alan Clarke’s Road. Men and women driven feral with boredom. Families at the throat of one another because there isn’t enough food in the fridge. All the houses look the same, a particularly smart choice Clarke makes to match the lack of change for a social class that was desperate for it. But Clarke misunderstands those that just want to dance, drink and screw as a popular track from the 1990s would soon explain. The viciousness that underscores Road is a surprise, not because there was no anger to be found within the working class, but of how it is used.
Anger and venomous back and forth make up most of the dialogue. They are often left unattended and raw. Families fight because they have nothing else to do. That aspect of the working-class way of life is left absent in Pulp’s Common People, but rage is an inevitable product of the times. To be insulted or upset by the events of the time is a natural feeling, and Clarke shows the futility of trying to do anything with such a feeling. Characters like Bring (Neil Dudgeon) and Carole (Mossie Smith) lash out at the wrong people but at the right time. They are rightfully appalled by what they see and it is hard to judge their response as out of order. Clarke manages that well by adding delicate little details to the area around these characters. It is the reason
“I was flung through the years,” is the shared message of all these characters. Joey (David Thewlis) starving himself for no defined reason. It is the eradication of reason and the mismanagement of lives that the government of the time were responsible for. All Clarke does is highlight the impact. He litters his cast with familiar faces. Great performers whose work has often been associated with fighting against the typical working-class derision. Thewlis, Jane Horrocks and Moya Brady all turn in tremendous performances here. They are set to the backdrop of a completely unloved area. People go mad when they have nothing to do, and that effect on the mental system, the rattling of the mind in a home with no furniture and peeling, crumbling walls, is presented with terrifying effectiveness.
For those that lived in the North East, whether before, during or after the times of Thatcherism, Road is a successful administration of that political impact on real people. They go through the motions because they have no idea what else to do with themselves. There is a burning tragedy underlining Road that Clarke taps into with grim fear. Thewlis encapsulates that most of all, a real hatred for the “work, work, work, smile on your face, work, work work,” attitude. His fight against that system is an indefinite one because such an attitude at such a time is unthinkable. He will starve and die, but instead of understanding that, the fractured relationships of friends and family are unable to support that blue-sky thinking. It was the government that did it, and Clarke tries to pick up the pieces. Even the moments of happiness and social leisure look miserable.