277. Rita, Sue and Bob Too! (GB 1986)

Director: Alan Clarke

Starring: Michelle Holmes, George Costigan, Siobhan Finneran, Willie Ross, Kulvinder Ghir

Screenplay: Andrea Dunbar (based on her play)

Music: Michael Kamen

Short Story: Charles Dickens

Minor Roles: Bernard Wrigley* (as Teacher); Black Lace (as themselves - shudders)

*aka The Bolton Bullfrog (indeed)

 In one line: Two women's sexual exploits with a married man



Rita and Sue live on the impoverished Buttershaw estate in Bradford. They babysit for Bob and Michelle who live in a more salubrious part of town. Bob starts an affair with the two girls, but after a while he develops a preference for Rita which leads to the two friends falling out. Sue starts a relationship with hopeless Aslam before a strange status quo is restored


If On the Buses shows us a world where the uneducated squabble and abuse each other as a means of existing, Rita Sue and Bob Too takes it to extremes.

This is a film which draws its lineage from the works of Ken Loach and Tony Richardson, but instead of showing us the nobility of the working class, RS and BT portrays estate life as vulgar and mean-spirited, but  there's also a certain  'robust' liveliness, with Rita and Sue out for laughs, nights out and casual sex as an antidote for the general wretchedness of their surroundings.

Rita and Sue are progenitors of Viz's Fat Slags - their lives appear to be poor and downtrodden, but they don't seem to realise it - there are more important things to do. 

At first, this seems a minor and disposable offering from heavyweight political TV director Clarke (but certainly more impressive than his next offering Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire) but this film is years ahead of its time in its portrayal of the British underclass, and there's a real Jeremy Kyle feel to the proceedings. The main protagonists shout at, abuse and fight with each other throughout the film, there's drunkenness and ignorance aplenty and the language is fucking terrible, but Clarke is non-judgmental and it's quite obvious he loves his characters.

There's good naturalistic performances from an ensemble of character actors drawn largely from TV soaps and Yorkshire's acting workshops, but the best performance (and the reason RS and BT makes the list) is the fantastic performance of largely unknown actor Willie Ross. Ross plays 'Sue's father' (he's never named) and steals the film with a frighteningly good portrayal of a permanently pissed layabout trying to lay down the law in a house filled with women who point out his failings at every opportunity.

There are numerous similarities between Rita and Letter to Brezhnev, but this is a far better film. The two women in Letter hang on to their menial jobs and seek a life of temporary glamour on their night out; Rita and Sue go out to get pissed in tacky night clubs where bottom of the barrel local dj's and cabaret pop stars Black Lace are the stars, and Sue would rather live off benefits rather than taking what she considers a demeaning low-paid job (again, very prescient on Dunbar's and Clarke's behalf).

Letter to Brezhnev ends with the denouement of a bittersweet romance; Rita Sue and Bob Too ends (not really a spoiler - it's not big on plot) with Sue and Rita in bed waiting for Bob to get in and do the business. He takes a flying leap and the film ends with a freeze frame of Bob, in mid-air, wearing union jack undies and with a horrible, lascivious grin on his kite.

Just before he jumps, the girls (in unison) shout out the most romantic line in the history of British film:

"You took your fuckin' time!"

After seeing Rita, Sue and Bob Too you'll have to shower, rub Domestos on your eyes and burn all of your clothes; having said that, it does have a certain something.

But on reflection, it's probably crabs.