Burning an Illusion - Burning an Illusion (Blu Ray) [BFI - 2022]
Burning an Illusion is an early 1980s London set drama focusing on the life and love of a young black British woman. It gives a great snapshot of Thatcher’s London in the decade, and how afro British people were treated during this period. But it also stands as a compelling study of moving out of one's parent's home, and how first relationships develop/change. Here from the BFI is a Blu-Ray release of the film, featuring a few new extras & a good selection of archive material.
Burning an Illusion appeared in the year 1981, and it was the first feature-length film written & directed by Menelik Shabazz. He was born in St. John, Barbados in the early 1950s, moving to the UK at the age of six. He is most known for his documentary and short work- with notable titles being Time and Judgement (1988) focused on tribulations and triumphs of the people of the African diaspora- which fused poetry, art, archive footage and drama. And The Story of Lovers Rock (2011) focuses on the black British music genre romantic reggae. Though Burning an Illusion is largely a fictional drama, it does have an often fly-on-the-wall/ doc feel to it.
The film centres around Pat (Cassie McFarlane), an ordinary young woman from a caring London family. She has an office job which she enjoys, and has in the last few years moved out into her own apartment. She is keen to find a good man, get married, and dreams of a very British middle-class life. One night when she’s out with Sonia (Beverley Martin) her more bubbly if somewhat gullible best friend. She meets Del (Victor Romero Evans), a brash, if charming toolmaker. The pair's relationship moves very quickly, with Del fairly soon moving into Pat’s flat.
To start with things seem to be going well enough for the couple-aside from Del not being able to get up for his job, and him feeling disgruntled regarding his treatment from the new white middle-aged foreman. One evening after work Pat finds Del asleep in bed, and we find out he’s been fired. From here things turn decidedly rocky- with Del hanging out in the apartment drinking and playing cards with his slobby buddies. And as things move on the pair's relationship, really starts to get more and more strained with violence, visits from the police, and a few other things coming into the pair's life. At one point it looks like things are going to turn terminal bad, but there is hope, and in the end, the film resolves in a relatively positive and powerful manner- as Pat and Del embrace their afro heritage.
Both McFarlane and Romero Evans are convincing and believable leads, with the supporting cast made up of some great black British talent. Though are there are a few minor issues- for example, the use of voice-over from Sonia feels a little clunky/ jarring, and some of the points made feel slightly overbearing & preachy. But for the most part, Burning an Illusion is an engaging and important black British drama.
This Blu-Ray release features a high-definition print of the picture, and this nicely brings alive the more fly-on-wall elements of the film, as well as enhancing some of the more dramatically intense moments too. On the new extra side, we just get one thing on the disc a seven-minute interview/ film introduction by lead actor Cassie McFarlane. Here she talks about how she got the role, her then agent asking her not to accept the role as it would stereotype her as a ‘black actor’. She chats about the BFI funding of the film, rehearsing before filming, and the films long-term impact.
But there’s a good selection of archive material- a 2001 commentary track from director Menelik Shabazz, and lead actors Cassie McFarlane and Victor Romero Evans. A 2005 Introduction by Menelik Shabazz (10 mins) , Blood Ah Goh Run (13 mins): a 1982 short documentary on the response to the New Cross fire of 1981 and the Black People’s Day of Action. Step Forward Youth (29 mins) a selection of interviews dating from 1977 with first-generation Black British youth on their attitudes to identity, family, police, race and fashion.
The finished edition of the film features an illustrated booklet taking new essay by Alex Ramon, an article by Dr Clive Nwonka from Sight and Sound (March 2022), an interview with Menelik Shabazz from Monthly Film Bulletin (1988), a director biography, notes on the special features and credits.
Burning an Illusion will most certainly be of interest to those who enjoy British inner-city drama of the 1980s, or well-acted black-focused drama. And it’s good to see the BFI reissue this key and important film, in British black culture.Roger Batty