Jubilee is a 1978 cult film directed by Derek Jarman. It stars Jenny Runacre, Ian Charleson, and a host of punk rockers, including Adam Ant and Toyah. The title refers to the Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II in 1977.
In Jubilee, Queen Elizabeth I (Runacre) is transported forward in time by the occultist John Dee (Richard O'Brien) through the spirit guide Ariel (a character from Shakespeare's The Tempest). Elizabeth arrives in the shattered Britain of the 1970s. Queen Elizabeth II is dead, killed in an arbitrary mugging, and Elizabeth I moves through the social and physical decay of the city observing the activities of a group of sporadic nihilists, including Amyl Nitrite (Jordan), Bod (Runacre in a dual role), Chaos (Hermine Demoriane), Crabs (Nell Campbell), and Mad (Toyah Willcox).
Numerous punk icons appear in the film including Jordan (a Malcolm McLaren protégé), Toyah Willcox, Nell Campbell, Adam Ant, Demoriane and Wayne County. It features performances by Wayne County and Adam and the Ants. There are also cameo appearances by The Slits and Siouxsie and the Banshees. The film was scored by Brian Eno.
The film is heavily influenced by the 1970s punk
aesthetic in its style and presentation. Shot in grainy colour, it is
largely plotless and episodic. Location filming took advantage of London
neighbourhoods that were economically depressed and/or still contained
large amounts of rubble from the London Blitz.
On its release in 1978, the
film polarised opinion. Many punks resented the intrusion of an outsider
- most notably Westwood, who made a vindictive T-shirt denouncing the
film and its maker. But, as ever in his films, Jarman caught an
underlying essence in its foreboding aura and casual brutalities - a
kind of truth. In fact, Jubilee was one of the rare feature films to
come out of punk, and it remains one of the few visual records of London
in jubilee year.
Ultimately, Jubilee is not pure Jarman: it is riotous
rather than deliberate in its subversiveness, and it celebrates bi- and
heterosexual promiscuity rather than homoeroticism
(which is significant, given the rest of Jarman's oeuvre).
Increasingly, the film seems like an anomaly in both Jarman's career
and in the history of British cinema. For that reason, though, it will
always be important.
eminent scientist and confidant of Queen Elizabeth 1, calls on the
angel Ariel to show his queen the future of her kingdom: a future which
stands in stark contrast to the Arcadian serenity of the Elizabethan
framework, centering as it does on a gang of six wild girls (including
Jordan in the role of Amyl Nitrate) and the forays they make from their
chaotic headquarters in Southwark into the equally chaotic urban
wasteland that surrounds them. Meanwhile, in the background, pulling the
strings and laughing insanely at the extent of his power, lurks the
media mogul Borgia Ginz, who holds the whole of this splintered, violent
world in the palm of his hand. Ginz has turned Buckingham Palace into a
recording studio, and Westminster Cathedral into a throbbing
discotheque in which Christ and the twelve apostles perform
orgiastically before a gyrating audience. Sleepy Dorset has become a
separate country where blacks, homosexuals, and Jews are banned, and
Ginz can retreat to the splendid seclusion of the home he shares with
the retired Hitler to pronounce with cynical satisfaction: “They all
sign up in the end one way or another.”
The film opened in February 1978—exactly a year after Jarman had first
put pen to paper—to decidedly mixed reviews. Its intensely private core
(there is as much autobiography in the film as there is ostensible
reportage) and somewhat uneasy mix of exuberance and bleakness—as Jarman
himself put it in his book Dancing Ledge, “Just as it
seems that it is settling down it’s off in another direction, like a
yacht in a squall”—was too puzzling for all but the most entranced of
viewers. Vivienne Westwood even went so far as to have a T-shirt
printed, in which, at some length, she detailed why she despised the
film. It was, she said, “the most boring and therefore disgusting film”
she had ever seen. She could not “get off watching a gay boy jerk off
through the titillation of his masochistic tremblings. You pointed your
nose in the right direction then you wanked.”