This is another review posted earlier on my personal journal. If you’re expecting Derek Jarman’s Jubilee to be a celebration of the punk scene in 1977 you’re going to be very disappointed. Aside from the fact that Jarman views the punk ethos with amused contempt it isn’t that sort of film at all. Although you will catch glimpse of Siouxsie and the Banshees performing Love in a Void, and there’s an appearance by The Slits as well as some of the more completely forgotten performers of that era, like the transsexual Wayne County and the prodigiously untalented Adam Ant. Jubilee is actually a story of a magical visit made by Elizabeth I and her court magus Dr John Dee to the England of Elizabeth II’s jubilee year, where they discover such horrors as social breakdown, random violence, a society that has forgotten beauty and considers art and history to be irrelevant. And, worst horror of all, the Eurovision Song Contest.
Jenny Runacre plays Elizabeth I and she also plays Bod, leader of a punk gang. The gang also includes the aptly named Mad (Toyah Willcox) and Amyl Nitrate (played by Jordan). Amyl is the most interesting character in the movie, with her punk hairdo and make-up combined with a tweed skirt, a pink twinset and pearls, and her hobby of writing history (when she isn’t making it). In some ways she perhaps best represents the contradictions of the punk ethos – a veneer of sneering violence over a substrate of irony and artiness.
The satire of the film is heavy-handed. The punks certainly aren’t Jarman’s only targets – the media, the police (whose random violence is more vicious than that of the roaming gangs), capitalism, Marxism, all come in for a battering. Amyl’s ballet-dancing dream is probably the nest moment in the film – dancing in the midst of chaos and destruction. Although Chaos (one of Bod’s punk gang) tight-rope walking on the clothesline while singing Non, je ne regrette riens is also cute.
An interestingly different film that just doesn’t quite come together, and suffers from being just a bit too disjointed. The framing device with Elizabeth I and Dr Dee and the angel Ariel probably needed to be strengthened a little – I suspect it was really the most important part of the film for Jarman.