The British social-realist film movement originated in the 1930's and stemmed directly from the documentary movement's desire for the cinema to play a positive role in society beyond entertainment for profit. A pioneer in the movement, John Grierson, wanted to capture the the 'creative interpretation of actuality' in an attempt to allow the scientific capture of living patterns that would be beneficial for state planning and control as well as to educate those in charge and artistically enhancing a public sense of national unity. British cinema has become renowned for its social realist films; they are seen as an ˜unbroken tradition' of the British cinema experience. (Hill, 2000: p.178) The term 'social realism' is one that is broadly used to capture the essence of the films' content, concerns and visual style. (Lay, 2002: p.5).
British social realist films are representative of real life, with all its difficulties and have shown audiences themselves for decades through the portrayal of real, often working-class Britons on screen. Typically, they are culturally specific and reflect themes, motifs, and icons of national life. The films within the social realist canon are gritty, urban dramas about the struggle to survive the daily grind and accentuate social, political, economic and racial issues; encapsulated within it a sense of ˜the world as it really is' or ˜life as it is really lived.' .
Since the beginning of cinema, realism and reality has been its central concern with Hollywood alone spending millions of dollars to achieve a sense of a real, aesthetic experience and, as the term suggests, British social realist films aims are no different. It is however, important to look at social realist films beyond the label of 'genre' and look at them instead as an approach to film and film realism. Directors such as Ken Loach prefer to talk about his films more in terms of their storytelling ability in the hope that they resonate with the public.