Proud to Be British (1973)

Proud to Be British (1973) was Broomfield’s first film at the National Film School, where he was introduced to the work of D.A. Pennebaker, Richard Leacock, Paul Rotha, Jean Rouche, and Frederick Wiseman.

Among his teachers was NFS founder, Colin Young, who encouraged him to trust his instincts and to allow the mechanics of the filmmaking to show on screen. Young also encouraged Broomfield to collaborate, which led to many partnerships, including the projects he co-directed with American cinematographer Joan Churchill, then head of documentary at the NFS and his future wife.

Proud to Be British was driven by a visit to Essex University by Buckinghamshire MP Ronald Bell as part of a Commission on Education and University Unrest, during which Broomfield conducted a one-to-one interview in which the MP extolled the British Empire. He expanded this material into a satirical account of middle-class values, adding interviews with Earl Howe, aspirant conservative carpenter Fantham and the pupils of the girls’ public school Oakdene. The film also included members of the public who shared Bell’s nationalistic ideology. Broomfield had shot reels of footage and gone seriously over budget. His profligacy led NFS tutors to impose more stringent measures about the use of film stock.

The film was criticized by Bernice Rubens, who labeled Broomfield a fascist. “I felt the film was about understanding an ideology without necessarily supporting it,” Broomfield said. “I think my position is clear, but to someone like Bernice, who is pure
and passionate, it was too cynical.”

If Who Cares was about understanding those communities and what they gave to each other, Proud to Be British examined what had enabled an ideology to endure and instill its values. On the subject of class, deference and the need to belong, the film still feels pertinent.

Through the interviews with Oakdene intelligent pupils, expected to marry into the ruling elite and forfeit career ambitions of their own, Proud to Be British also sheds light on society’s attitudes towards women.