UK, 1992, M, 94 mins. Director: Ken Loach. Stars: Robert Carlyle, Emer McCourt, Jimmy Coleman.
Riff Raff's screenwriter Bill Jesse (who sadly died before the film was completed) drew on his own experiences of working as a labourer to give us this totally convincing portrait of life on a London building-site. The largely unknown cast adds to the perception that these are real people we're watching, as does the dialogue (which by refusing to skimp in its portrayal of Scots, Scouse, Welsh and Cockney accents has been subtitled for the benefit of American audiences; unfortunately, Australian audiences have to put up with this distraction too).
Riff Raff was promoted in cinemas as a comedy, but it's a mistake to go along expecting a laugh a minute. The fine comic moments which do occur merely reflect the fact that a good laugh is part of working life. As the film progresses, the laughs become less important, as we become engrossed in the simple but moving relationship which develops between Glaswegian Stevie and a young Irish singer, and in the struggles of the labourers to get some basic safety measures implemented by their dodgy employers.
Riff Raff is fine evidence of the resurgence of British cinema. It won both the 1991 International Critics' Award at Cannes, and Best Film in the 1992 European Oscars. Like Life is Sweet, it is essential viewing for anyone whose knowledge of English life is based on trite BBC sitcoms and stories about the Royals... and for anyone else, for that matter.