Archive for May, 2016

Racism in New Zealand

May 28, 2016




Great Aunt Eva was a figure on the families periphery and not long before she died at the age of 92 I sat down with her curious to learn more about her life. I asked why she had never married and she explained that there had been someone once but her intuition warned her against it. He was a heavy drinker who later turned into an alcoholic and drank himself to an early grave. “A close escape,” she mused. For many decades a chain smoker, evident in her heavily wrinkled skin and gravely voice, she cadged a cigarette off me- her last as it turned out- and after a couple of puffs stubbed it out remarking that it held no interest for her anymore.

A career dental assistant and sometime nurse she gave up work to nurse her aged mother through dementia, an all-consuming 15-year affair that come with a high personal and emotional cost. In return for giving up her career to care for her mother her siblings renounced all claims on the families Dairy Farm (at Waharoa near Matamata in the Eastern Waikato) and it was given to her for her dedication to “mum”. With the farm income she lived out a long and comfortable retirement playing golf, spending time with family and travelling the world.

Her mother was Irish and her father a Scot who had been in NZ for several decades living on land he had procured by ballot. (The Liberal government of the late 1900’s had broken up the large family owned estates that dominated the NZ rural landscape at the time and through various schemes most notably the Ballot- a kind of lottery- had enabled people without few means the opportunity to acquire land on easy financial terms). He had developed the land into a productive dairy operation and raised a family and buried a wife before he met my great grandmother who had secured the farm next door, also by ballot.

She was infamously canny with money and she paid for the development of her land by handling the accounts of her neighbours including the Scot next door. Eventually they married, combined the farms and produced 5 children. Eva described a happy and carefree childhood and revealed her parents to be kind, hard working and practical. As she described farm life her thoughts fell to a small group of local Maori, (the former ‘owners’ of the land though Eva would not have considered them as such. The orthodox logic of time held that Maori did not understand the economic potential of land and were therefore poor custodians), who lived in whare made from fern and manuka down the back of the farm where it ended on the banks of the Waihou River.

A remanent population of a much larger tribal group that had been displaced by the land wars of the 1860s, this small isolated group lived on eels fished out of the river and whatever else they could glean which included milk, fruit and vegetables from the Johnstone family farm. “They were dirty ill-kept thieves,” she informed me, “lazy and untrustworthy.” A harsh assessment I thought as I considered their condition.

They had only recently lost their land, their culture had been subsumed and they had been banished to the fringes of the new social order. Being from a co-operative tribal culture I assumed that they saw anything growing on the land as mutual property. I imagined them living in their whare, somewhat bewildered by the momentous changes going on about them, unable to engage because of a lack of education and appropriate language skills and surviving as best they could in the only way they knew how. I explained this perspective to Eva whose eyes widened. She seemed startled at this idea and gathering her thoughts she looked squarely at me and wondered if I might be right?

She died suddenly two days later, the last of a pioneering generation whose immediate forebears had fled social oppression in search of freedom, opportunity and in the case of some at least, a desire to create a nation free of the hierarchical constraints they had left behind in the old country. In many regards they succeeded spectacularly but this was nation of two halves.

Besides the liberal voice seeking social equity there was a more potent and powerful voice determined that this new nation maintain a cultural balance firmly tilted in favour of White, Christian and British. This was to be a progressive society but only for the chosen few. It was also a society determined to undermine its founding document, a formal declaration of partnership between Maori and the British Crown called The Treaty of Waitangi.




A Nations Founding Document.

The heyday of colonialism was stuttering to a close and the Maori encountered the British at time when that Empire had become somewhat more enlightened as regards its responsibilities as a ruling power and in this light the Maori managed to negotiate a treaty the likes of which had not been achieved by any colonised people anywhere through this age of cultural subjection. In brief:

‘The Treaty is a broad statement of principles on which the British and Māori made a political compact to found a nation state and build a government in New Zealand. The document has three articles. In the English version, Māori cede the sovereignty of New Zealand to Britain; Māori give the Crown an exclusive right to buy lands they wish to sell, and, in return, are guaranteed full rights of ownership of their lands, forests, fisheries and other possessions; and Māori are given the rights and privileges of British subjects’.

– Te Ara Encyclopaedia of NZ

NZ was a brand spanking new democracy and Maori were full participants from the start and here on these isolated islands at worlds end the two peoples worked and lived side by side fully equal under the law, a state of being somewhat blighted by the European world-view of the time. The wisdom was that the white races were somewhat superior and deserved inheritors of the world a methodology of thinking that led to outrageous treaty breaches as regards land ownership. As a result Maori were often violently disrespected, insulted and manipulated endlessly by a system that promised much but seldom delivered on those promises.

Perhaps this fight for Maori equality is best exemplified through the story of the Maori Battalion, a much-eulogised unit of the NZ army that fought valiantly on several fronts through World War Two. Maori leaders at the time hoped that but fighting harder faster and better than anyone else Pakeha would wake from their dream of superiority start to treat Maori more with respect.

It didn’t happen and as late as 1960 the South Auckland town of Pukekohe banned Maori from hotel bars, barbershops and general seating in movie theatres. This was neither standard nor unusual and wholly against the spirit of the law and the Treaty of Waitangi. It was also a glaring reflection of the attitudes at work in the hearts of many Pakeha and by the 1970s rolled around Maori had had enough and started exerting themselves to the fright of the nation. Almost 40 years later Maori now compensated, consulted and recipients of all manner of formalised apologies are still considered by much of mainstream culture as second rate though few in their right mind would ever dare say so out loud.

A friend recalls being on a course with a Maori guy who she described as pleasant but somewhat haunted. Though they talked extensively and got to know each other well he would never meet her eyes, a trait which upset her. She queried this and he confided that next to Pakeha he felt like a second-class citizen and a lesser human being. To him this feeling was visceral and kept him form fulfilling his potential as a citizen, which was why he was on this particular course: seeking a solution to his pain and confusion.

120 years of land confiscations and cultural subjugation had taken a psychological toll of the sort that scars the intergenerational psyche and this troubled man was but a symptom of this scarring. This pain has manifested itself through mental illness, anger and emotional dislocation serving the behavioural dysfunction that many Pakeha identify as a Maori trait.




A Covertly Racist Society.

The Maori were not the only people to suffer from Pakeha notions racial superiority. Until the 1960s immigration laws were covertly structured to exclude or dissuade anyone not of British or Irish origin including Indians, a policy that was seriously questioned by the UK who considered Indians to be British subjects. While Scandinavian’s, Czech’s, German’s and French got a relatively easy time (NZ often struggled to find enough suitable migrants and when quotas were not filled, Western Europe was the next best stop though few could be persuaded to travel so far from home) the more exotic Dalmatian’s (a major migrant group originating from Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast) found themselves restricted and frequently victimised by laws designed to favour people of British heritage.

During the Second World War NZ accepted 734-orphaned Polish children at the behest of the Polish government in exile. These children infamously found themselves in a climate informed by suspicion and prejudice and were hardly able to cope unlike the robust working class Dutch adults who, fulfilling NZ’s requirements for white similarity, flooded a post war country desperate for skilled tradesmen. Many came from the former Dutch colony of Indonesia and some unfortunates discovered that even a drop of Indonesian blood disqualified them as suitable migrant material.

Early Chinese migrants lured here by the prospect of finding riches on the Otago goldfields in the 1860’s encountered appalling racism and a tax designed to discourage them. The nation was wary of the ‘Yellow Peril’ (it was feared that the Chinese might overrun us through sheer force of numbers) and besides they were heathen opium smokers with strange ways. In 2002 the NZ Government formally apologised to the local Chinese community for past injustices yet despite this acknowledgement the Chinese remain the first port of call when the media need someone to blame for whatever trouble is about- everything from bad driving to property prices.

That same year the Government also apologised to Western Samoa for the abuse this community suffered while a colony of New Zealand (1920-35), which brings to mind the 1970s and the lot of Polynesian migrants who had arrived in droves through the 1950s to fill labour shortages in factories. By the 1970s the economy was undergoing decline and these same migrants were now a useful scapegoat for governments seeking easy solutions to complex problems.

These events, much like our cosy relationship with apartheid era South Africa stand today as rank examples of how low Pakeha can sink when given the chance. With South Africa we reached a kind of nadir when we succumbed time and again to requests from the apartheid -era South African government to exclude players of colour from touring the country with the All-Blacks.

The Springboks, South Africa’s national rugby team, played their first match against the NZ Natives during their 1921 tour of NZ and it was reported that it disgusted them. The All-Blacks excluded Maori players from their 1928 South African tour at the request of the South African government and though the Springbok refused to play a ‘native’ team on their 1937 visit to NZ, Maori were not excluded from the All-Blacks.

In 1959 the All-Blacks were invited to tour South Africa and again were asked to leave out players of colour. The outrage at this grievous insult to Maori reached fever pitch with 160,000 people signing an anti-tour petition and thousands more marching down the mainstreets of the nation in protest, all to no-avail.

The rugby field was the one place where Maori and Pakeha found unity and common cause and with this decision the Pakeha administered game of Rugby, blinded by its own self-regard, handed Maori one hell of a slap in the face proving once again that despite the promise of Waitangi, this was a Pakeha country and when push cam to shove, Maori be damned. It took until 1981 for the Rugby Union to change its ways and only after some of the most virulent public protests this country has ever seen.

A Department of External Affairs memorandum from 1953 stated: “Our immigration is based firmly on the principle that we are and intend to remain a country of European development. It is inevitably discriminatory against Asians – indeed against all persons who are not wholly of European race and colour. Whereas we have done much to encourage immigration from Europe, we do everything to discourage it from Asia.’

By the 1960s NZ began to re-examine its ideas about race and culture and in 1971 the then Prime Minister Norman Kirk argued that our future as a people lay with Asia and the Pacific and we should no longer judge migrants on colour, race and religion. Finally we had begun our long march toward a better standard of human regard.


Pākehā is a Māori language term for New Zealanders who are “of European descent.”

Eva, like many of her generation, had never stopped to properly examine the circumstance of the Maori and her experience with a small and disparate band without means living at on the margins had forever framed her outlook, an outlook not uncommon amongst Pakeha of that era. I remember as a child listening to adults publically describing Maori in less than generous terms. By the time I had become an adult the only thing that had changed was that now it that it had become unacceptable to voice these kinds of thoughts out loud and in public. The terms had changed but the method has become more surreptitious.

Maori had bent under the weight on the Pakeha onslaught but eventually sprung back and using Pakeha law, the same law that undid them in the first place, forced the nation to address injustice and while Pakeha have finally acknowledged their treaty obligations certain attitudes remain unchanged (though not unchallenged). Comments behind closed doors like “I am not racist but………” and devious jokes designed to belittle and reinforce stereotypical notions of Maoridom sadly abound. Despite our shared history, Maori remain in many minds the somewhat lesser cousin: tolerated, occasionally respected but somehow never quite up to the mark.

Ides of racial superiority have morphed into resentment about the cost of Treaty, which really hasn’t cost much considering the current value of land and its bounty. Mostly the treaty cash has given Maori enterprise capital and across the nation tribes have been building profitable endeavours that have contributed not insubstantially to the overall wealth and wellbeing of the nation.

Pakeha judgement casts a long shadow and while we deny our racism but it is an undeniable undercurrent that haunts perception. Parliamentary speeches going back a century demonstrate that alongside discriminating and dissenting voices are other voices that recognise the plight of Maori and have long sought redress and redemption. It has been a long battle that remains unresolved in many hearts and minds here in Aotearoa.




Racism Is Alive and Well Though Not Unchallenged.

There is a strain of decency running deep through the heart of Pakeha culture but when confronted by challenges to the cultural status quo we often slip into racial cliché and confused garbling as we seek to reconsider the world and our position in it. Not all of us, but an aspect of us and this reaction is natural if misshapen. Eva was an average person of her time whose truth was shaped by a particular mythology about the world and the white persons place in it. It is a mythology that no longer dominates but regardless Pakeha racism remains alive and active.

I remember my first day as Sales Manager for an Auckland company in 2010. I opened the previous managers company email to discover that some of the staff were sharing anti-Maori jokes. I confronted the people in question and were met with shame-faced denials. I understood that these actions were more to do with thoughtlessness than anything else, much like the words I encountered one day while travelling across Hamilton on a city bus.

I was the helpless and unfortunate witness to a very loud conversation between a group of Pakeha high school girls sitting in the seat immediately behind me. “Where do get off?” asks one girl of another. The girl explains and her companion responds “Oh, that’s a dirty Maori suburb.” “Yeah I know,” she responded, “I hate Maoris.” Her friend laughs “Oh me too.” Sitting behind them were several Maori, both young and old. Like me I am sure they had no choice but to hear and I felt shocked and upset for them, myself and the girls in question. Sometimes ignorance is simply what it is and sometimes it is wilful. I hope in this case it was just plain old ignorance informed by youthful thoughtlessness.


On the bright side I spent several hours on the streets of Auckland talking to Asian and Indian students about Kiwi’s and racism. The response was positive and along the lines of “Kiwi’s are very nice and helpful and no, I have not encountered any racism.” The only negative came from a group of Saudi Arabian boys who were angry at the way Kiwi men interacted with women. “The have no respect, they treat woman as friends and equals and this is against our culture.” To a tee they found this offensive and especially so in regard to their female compatriots. “Kiwi men should not talk with them in such a friendly manner, this is very bad and they insult us when they chat with strangers the way they should only chat with their sisters or mother.”

Culture is a complex thing and should be navigated with care and informed consideration by all sides. Too often this is not the case and results are not pretty. My immediate mental response to these boys was to think “your cultural perspective is outdated” and perhaps I should have said something but I remembered another conversation with a young Saudi woman who is in NZ studying computer science. (She chose NZ because of its reputation for peace, safety and kindness).

Her widowed father, guardian to a family of daughters, did not see the world in this way at all and his daughter described him as “enlightened” and “encouraging”. This and stories I has been reading about female activism in part of the world give me hope that the outlook of these boys is essentially doomed. History is against them and the wars raging across the Middle East at this time are in part but a response to the momentous changes sweeping through the hearts and minds in the Middle East. New ideas about culture and society are displacing the old and the old is responding with anger, the only method it has left in its fight to remain relevant.


Changing Attitudes.

NZ has come a long way over the last 50 odd years. This once racist society has overcome its worst tendencies and is now ranked consistently among the world’s most open and progressive societies. It is a socially bold young nation and our ability to overcome our worst tendencies is a great lesson for the world at large. We must never forget the wrongs that we have perpetuated and the ease at which we often gravitate toward the lowest common denominator but nor should be underestimate our strong collective impulse for better and fairer.

This is a nation without a formal document to define us, our constitution is unwritten but it exists deep in our communal heart. It asks us to be fair and decent, to live and let live, to be trustworthy, virtuous and honest, to consider those with less and to be compassionate in our approach to all things. Pakeha follow this method vigorously as regards other Pakeha but sometimes forget that ‘me’ is actually ‘we’ and that ‘we’ includes Maori, Asian, Polynesian, Indian and all the other diverse peoples with whom we share these islands.

Resentments and misunderstanding still discolour the relationship between the two peoples central to the life of this nation and there is still much healing required before Maori can properly stand tall amidst humanities vast cultural swirl and as for Pakeha…… a little more self-reflective soul searching would do us all a world of good.

The future is a world is one where humanity is not defined by colour, religion or sexuality but by the quality of our actions. Some of us already know this, some are still learning it, others deny it and some have yet to consider it. This is humanity in motion today, an evolving broader culture fuelled by better access to information available beyond the old physical and mental borders that defined us before the age of super-fast communications.

Racism is composed of many factors, some being informed by an instinctual mistrust of strangers (those whose colour and culture are different to our own) and others being informed by social conditioning. I remember as a child being possessed of negative racial notions toward Maori and others, notions inherited from my family and community but as I grew into myself I discovered that these feeling were not my own and I was able to easily shuck them off. To my relief I discovered that I was essentially colour blind and that I viewed culture not as an irrefutable natural law set in stone, rather as a series of habits: some good, some bad making culture –in my mind at least – a malleable method of social organisation capable of positive evolution.

When I sat down to write this story I had little idea of the journey and challenges ahead and how little I actually knew about my own cultures racist past. The research, thinking and consideration has been a cathartic experience that has done my heart and mind a world of good. This effort has better informed me, altered my perceptions and made me better than I was. Who could ask for more?



Though I did not agree with her brand of middle class Pakeha politics I always liked Eva and we become great friends towards the end of her life. I will forever remain grateful to her for that conversation as it sparked something in me that facilitated change. I lived and worked in a small community whose conservative social views clashed with my own my liberal inclinations and still young and unsure of my own voice I had gotten used to nodding my head in agreement with things I did not agree with in order to maintain peace. After that encouraging talk with Eva I felt less inclined to do so and with her death following soon after it freed me of the need to consider regard when discussing difficult topics with loved ones.

Besides the sunroom, kitchen, bathroom and one bedroom Eva kept the rest of her 1940s brick and tile house in the Hamilton suburb of Hillcrest effectively sealed. She had no need of it and kept the heavy curtains tightly drawn. The house was dark, cool and quiet, an odd oasis of peace. She was dutiful, cared for her extended family and possessed a good heart capable of grand sacrifice and I could not help but think that has she been born back in Ireland she might have spent out her days serving as a Nun.

Whenever I called in National Radio was playing in the background and the Herald and the Listener were spread out on the little table in the cosy sunroom out the back. She loved Winston Peters and his brand of opportunistic politics: “I like what he says,” she would say but I was never going to agree with her on that topic so I kept my mouth shut and let her talk.

She was a champion of the golf player and several engraved cups in the cabinet at the Walton course where she was a member are probably the only physical proofs left outside her gravestone to remind us that she once walked the earth. Those who knew her in person are now few and far between. Eva is buried at the cemetery off Morrinsville Road near Hamilton and lies next to her beloved mother, Mary. Her time was due as were her generations general attitudes toward non-Pakeha peoples.





Film Review: Aunty and the Star People. 5/5 Stars

May 21, 2016

Jean Nov2014

Jean Watson (1933-2014)

The human world is filled with all kinds of darkness informed by thoughtlessness, ignorance and all round bad behaviour and sometimes one can be subsumed by it all wondering if there is anything good to hold onto. Where is the light?

The light it turns out is everywhere working small miracles of the type that keep the darkness at bay and one of those light bearers is a pragmatic and thoughtful Kiwi writer called Jean Watson. 30 years ago she was travelling across India and at the age of 50 found a new career in Tamil Nadu caring for displaced children.

“I made a commitment to help then went back to New Zealand frightened by the promises I had made.” She overcame her fears and today is part of an organisation that cares for orphans and children of the very poor in an isolated rural district of this sprawling Indian state.

The children are well fed, (Jean constantly reinforces the reality of hunger for the poor and the effect it has on both the mind and body), happy and full of positive dreams for the future. Their educations are provided for, their health needs taken care of and they have somewhere safe to sleep and call home.

Hundreds of children have now passed through the homes that Jean has helped to finance and she bears the honorarium of ‘Aunty’, a greeting she encounters everywhere as she navigates the towns and villages of the region building and maintaining relationships. “She is a saint,” says friend, supporter and fellow Kiwi writer Joy Cowley but to her credit Jean will have nothing of it. “No I am not,” she insists, “I have an ego, I get angry and annoyed at people.” Ok, so she is not faultless but her work is.

“When you devote your life to others everything else becomes unimportant, insubstantial,” muses Jean back in her Wellington pensioners flat partly in reference to her previous career as a writer. “Every time I return home I wonder if that will have been my last trip to India. I am 80 now, that’s the age when you die. That could happen any moment now.”

Jean cuts a sprightly figure and her youthful outlook belies her heavily wrinkled features but she is right of course and has made plenty of provision for the inevitable. Her legacy is an organisation that has grown beyond one single person and is well equipped to carry on without her.

The film concludes and I wipe the tears from the corner of my eyes. The last few years of my life have been confused and rocky and Jean has reminded me of what’s important. No, she is not a saint but she is wise in that laconic and self-deprecating way that Kiwis often are and I am grateful for the experience of this joyous little film. It is has recharged my spirit.

Jean died in December 2014, 3 months after the film was released, her work complete.

Film Review: ‘A Field In England’. 4/5 Stars

May 8, 2016


Human beings are mad bastards beset of all kinds of half-baked notions about life, the universe and everything. The less mad, those dedicated to reasonable analysis and considered thoughtfulness are simply out to spoil everyone’s fun. To imagine the exhaust of a jet plane as a mind control chemical designed by rogue government agencies is so much more delicious than the truth, which is sadly, mundane.

Screenwriter Amy Jump knows this and her script for the Ben Wheatley directed ‘A Field In England’ explores mankind’s tendency for fantastical thinking with glee. She is like a child playing in a sandpit, her words sharp and funny and her set pieces delirious in their execution.

Set during the English civil war (1642 – 1651), this allegory finds five men under the thrall of a ‘magician/sorcerer/seer’ set on the task of finding an undefined treasure he believes to be buried somewhere under the field in question. The treasure is probably a dream of wishful thinking, a childlike fantasy of gold as the would be magician contemplates paying off is considerable debts. Meanwhile his drugged compatriots dig away at the point of a gun dreaming of the ale that will be their reward should their task yield success.
Wheatley, not long off the set of the strange ‘Sightseers’, a piece of social commentary that sees his directorial skills take a big leap forward from earlier efforts, is on fire here. Bold and imaginative, Wheatley has taken a simple concept of five men larking about in a field on a mad venture and turned it into a compulsive feast of viewing, one filled with beauty, otherworldly strangeness and a unique sensibility that sets Wheatley above and beyond all his contemporaries.

Wheatley takes a classic cinematic narrative about a group of isolated people thrown together by circumstance (think Romero’s ‘Night Of The Living Dead’ or Huston’s ‘Treasure of the Sierra Madre’) and lets them go at it- power plays, alliances, betrayal and so forth. Jump obviously an enquiring researcher of some skill has set up the foundations beautifully recreating mindset, attitudes, language and all manner of other little cultural details which assist in building a fascinating interpretation of place and time.

The what, how and why and the interactions between these forces are played out in black and white, a cinematic art almost lost to time and one tremendously difficult to get right but Wheatley and his cinematographer Laurie Rose find all the requisite tones and in the process create a self-contained universe whose shades of grey possess their own logic and language. The other thing that Wheatley has gotten so right is the score. Not all Directors  properly appreciate the effect sound has on image but the great ones do. What would be Hitchcock without Herrmann or P T Anderson without Johnny Greenwood?

At times “A Field In England’ steers perilously close to early ‘Blackadder’ (this is a good thing) with a similar sensibility but this is not a some ‘Blackadder’ rip-off. The film takes the elements and creates an hallucinatory description of power and the insanity that overwhelms men possessed of a specific kind of ‘treasure’ lust, be it material or spiritual. Jump at one point wonders if those best able to handle wealth and power are the ones most afraid of their seductive promise. A subtle critic of the current state of economic affairs in Britain?

The Film also explores of mateship as viewed from a female perspective and again she has hit the nail on the head with her lucid understanding of the emotions that arise and wander between disparate men caught in strange situations. ‘A Field in England’ is a finely chiselled and barking mad parable and but one step shy of a masterpiece. If they can keep up this pace of artistic growth Wheatley and Jump are bound for glory. The maddest English film since 1973s ‘Wicker Man.’


Film Review: High-Rise. 5/5 Stars.

May 4, 2016



There is madness at large in the English character, a strange murderousness exemplified in any number of TV series concerned with police hunting down killers but this tendency toward bloodlust is perhaps best exemplified in ‘The Wicker Man’. This 1973 film celebrates with unhinged glee the dark heart at work beneath the veneer of that nations well-ordered society. Perhaps the greatest proponent English madness was the late Ken Russell whose view of this ‘green and pleasant land’ was filtered through a warped lens that hinted at a monstrous pagan monster at large in the soul of the this island.

Following in these illustrious footsteps is filmmaker Ben Wheatley and his writing partner and spouse Amy Jump. Wheatley and Jump began their career making YouTube videos and in the greatest of all possible dream scenarios their efforts gained them a huge following, awards and recognition.

Wheatley’s first feature was 2009’s ‘Down Terrace’, a low budget affair that was knocked off in nine days followed by 2011s ‘Kill List’. Receiving plenty of critical kudos and both films while engaging left me little impression and wondering what all the fuss was about. This perception changed when I watched 2012s ‘Sightseers’. Described as a black comedy, I found nothing especially funny about this story of a couple out on a caravanning holiday murdering anyone who managed to upset, insult or otherwise get in their way. What I did discover was a worthy successor to the great ‘Wicker Man’, an exposition of the kind cruelty and mad lust that propelled this small island nation into a world dominating super power.

‘Sightseers’ is notable for several things: a tightly drawn screenplay that investigates the English condition touching ever so subtly on class and social claustrophobia while demonstrating Wheatley’s growing confidence behind the camera. The framing of scenes is outstanding and his ability to tell a story both verbally and visually takes a considerable leap forward.

These themes are further investigated in 2013s triumphant ‘A Field In England’, a surreal dream fever of a film that proved Wheatley to be more than just a journeyman filmmaker. Here, in all its colours, was the kind of filmmaking that hints at genius, which brings us around to his latest, 2015s ‘High-Rise’ an adaptation of a J G Ballard novel of the same name.

J G Ballard could be described as a combination of Philip K Dick and William H Burroughs. A unique sort of writer, Ballard’s work spanned straight crime fiction, human drama (his best known work was ‘Empire of the Sun’ a biographical account of his time as a boy surviving in WW2 era Japanese occupied China) through sci-fi finishing and his speciality, a sort of esoteric psychology that explored fetishism, sex and society.

‘High Rise’ was written in 1975 documenting the social unrest of that era and is at heart an allegory about the infamous British class system. Within the High-Rise the class system is contained in microcosm and the struggles between the powerful elite and the masses are put under the microscope. Caught in the middle are the professional classes, quiet, compliant and somewhat seduced by the promise of upward social mobility, they possess the democratic power to usurp the ages old hierarchical system that has long defined British life if only they can be awakened from their slumber.

Life in this brutalist high rise is perfectly ordered with the working people living on the lower levels and the designer, the aptly named Royal played by a note perfect Jeremy Irons, inhabiting the top floor. The rest, a mixture of inherited wealth and the ambitious take pride in their proximity to the top floor, while the middle classes take up the rest of the space. These latter have some sympathy for those below but live in fear of the consequences of their empathy for those that maintain ‘Royals’ position are dangerously determined to quash all descent any chance of barrier breaking familiarity.

With ‘High-Rise’ Wheatley and Jump have created a fevered portrait of British social hierarchy and the political and educational system that sustains it. Covering the strikes and general social discontent that exemplifies this era Jump and Wheatley have cleverly factored in Margaret Thatcher and a sly commentary on laissez faire economics to create a compelling picture of the events that were to shape the next 40 years. (Of Note: the upheavals within the motor vehicle industry through this time are highlighted by the neatly laid out cars parked at the base of the High-Rise which makes detailed reference to the industry and the tensions that lead to its demise).

Stylistically the whole thing reads a little like a British version of ‘Mad Men’ and refers time and again to Kubrick whose influence is recognisable throughout. A tall order to walk in the steps of one of cinemas grand masters but Wheatley has not only followed Kubrick’s general template but has kept firm confidence in his own unique voice resulting in a film that is perilously close to a masterpiece, one that suggests Wheatley has the nous to join the hallowed ranks of the greats like Welles, Hitchcock, Kurosawa, Ford and yes, Kubrick.

Tom Hiddleston, recently seen in the television spy thriller ‘The Night Manager’, excels in the lead and places himself easily within the ranks of compatriots and master character leads like Tom Hardy and Michael Fassbender and the rest of the cast play up the madness with delirious and commendable abandon. Luke Evans as the unruly Wilder stands out in particular as a latter day Oliver Reed type.

‘High-Rise’ is perhaps the best British film in decades and a worthy successor to iconic and other similarly deranged films like ‘Clockwork Orange’, ‘If’, ‘The Wicker Man’ and that handful of others that disseminate the British psyche with artful regard.

This is not an easy film to take in on one viewing what with its multi-layered narrative, sly commentary and visceral bloodletting but that said, wow…….. it’s breathtaking in its ambition and a giant kick in the arse for the British film industry whose  tendency of late has been toward easily consumed ‘middle of the road’ feel good drama/comedy. Well done Mr Wheatley, well done indeed. Superbly written and gloriously realised, this is a substantial feat of a film worth every second of your time.