Derek Jarman’s eulogy to punk is very much a product of the art school spirit of the time: incredibly pretentious and never dull.
In the year 1578, Queen Elizabeth I (Jenny Runacre) asks her court magician and astrologer, Dr John Dee (Richard O’Brien), to give her a vision of “the shadow of her time.”
Dee invokes the angel Ariel, who transports the Queen and Dee forward in time to the England of 400 years in the future – a post-punk post-Thatcherian wasteland where civilisation has come to a halt.
Bands of teenage girl punks live in a squat, make vague attempts at raping Adam Ant, swear at each other a lot, and roam the streets of London killing people because they get bored playing Monopoly.
They suffocate lovers in plastic sheets and murder entertainers. Equally dangerous are the fascistic police.
Buckingham Palace is a recording studio, the centre of an entertainment empire controlled by media baron, Borgia Ginz (Jack Birkett), who owns everything from the Church of England to the BBC.
Dorset has become a fascist state within a state where the rich luxuriate behind barbed wire.
The anti-heroes of the film are led by Elizabeth’s mirror image Bod (Runacre again), the murderous leader of a mad household that includes the historian ‘Amyl Nitrite’ (Jordan), the pyromaniac ‘Mad’ (Toyah Willcox giving a performance which can most kindly be described as “energetic”), the sex-obsessed actress ‘Crabs’ (Nell Campbell), loving brothers ‘Sphinx’ and ‘Angel’, the artist ‘Viv’ and their French au pair, ‘Chaos’.
Britain’s first punk rock feature film also showed an orgy in Westminster Abbey and police terrorising the people with machine guns.
But the plot isn’t really a concern here, with the time travel aspect largely a framing device for a violent rumination on the concerns of 1970s England and kitchen-sink anarchy.
Director Derek Jarman was inspired to make the film because he was obsessed with Jordan. He first saw her at Victoria station and described her in his diary; “White patent boots clattering down the platform, transparent plastic miniskirt revealing a hazy pudenda. Venus T-shirt. Smudged black eye-paint, covered with a flaming blonde beehive”.
Originally, Jarman wanted to make a Super 8 film of Jordan (real name Pamela Rooke), but in the spring of 1977, he decided to do something more ambitious. He decided to make a film about punk, and he started rounding up likely actors from west London’s punk scene.
He shot Jubilee in six weeks on location in London with a tiny budget of £200,000.
Critics at the premier called the movie “sick” but claimed also that it was “a prophetic warning for sections of society that had ignored the youth rebellion”. . . . or not.
Edgy and shocking in 1977, all that’s left is a disturbing realisation of how swiftly punk was reduced to camp posturing. Punk designer Vivienne Westwood called it “the most boring film I’d ever seen” and produced a T-shirt, silk-screened with her rant against the film, calling Jarman “a gay boy jerk[ing] off through the titillation of his masochistic tremblings”.
Jordan died on 3 April 2022 in Seaford, East Sussex, after succumbing to a relatively rare form of cancer known as cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer). She was 66.
Queen Elizabeth I
Jordan (Pamela Rooke)
Dr John Dee
Adam Ant (Stuart Goddard)