The Unz Review:ㅤActing White: Colouring British History, by Mark Gullick


16-09-22 04:10:00,

I first noticed it 10 years ago while watching a BBC adaptation of Graham Greene’s famous 1938 gangster novel Brighton Rock. Considered a very violent book for its time, it was famously filmed in 1948 as a classic piece of British noir starring a young Richard Attenborough as Pinkie, the hoodlum with the sharp suits and penchant for throwing acid in his rivals’ faces.

But in the BBC adaptation there was something wrong. Pinkie’s gang, Dallow, Spicer and Cubitt, were depicted in the novel as runtish and impulsively violent criminals, but there was one thing about them that was clear from the prose; they were all White. In this version, however, Dallow was Black. The notion that an English south coast gangster just before World War II would be anything other than White is absurd, and I assumed this was just the usual BBC tokenism. However, over the next decade it would become increasingly common for producers to cast Black actors in what were obviously White parts. Today it seems almost mandatory.

Going forward a decade we find another BBC drama which tells the story of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII’s famed six spouses, and executed for her troubles in 1536. The actress playing Anne was Black. While the fictional Dallow in Brighton Rock being Black can be dismissed as a by-product of BBC moral rectitude, casting a woman who history and portraiture tell us was a White Englishwoman is operating in different territory.

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