A Brief History of the Hoodie in British Film

In the summer of 2005, Britain found a new enemy when the Bluewater shopping centre banned the hooded top in a bid to banish anti-social behaviour. Soon enough the humble hoodie became symptomatic of everything that was wrong about the country: an unofficial uniform of the disruptive and disreputable.

Youth trends are inevitably reflected on the big screen and so the British Hood movie, or urban drama, was born the following year when American forefathers such as Boyz n the Hood and Menace II Society were anglicised within the lineage of British social realism.

Menhaj Huda’s Kidulthood was the first major film in which the hoodie was an essential part of its characters notoriety since the term was coined. Its inner city tale of violence, drugs and sex propelled its themes of social and racial inequality and launched a blueprint for a new genre – and the hoodie was already so ubiquitous that all four of the male characters shown on the film’s poster were sporting the look.

“The humble hoodie became symptomatic of everything that was wrong about the country: an unofficial uniform of the disruptive and disreputable.”

The knee-jerkers were soon out in force but it won enough of an audience – presumably composed largely of the demographic that it depicted – to allow its writer and star Noel Clarke to helm the 2008 sequel Adulthood which became an immediate box office hit. Subsequently, any vaguely suitable riff on the formula found its way into cinemas. How about focusing on girl gangs? 2011’s Sket tackled that. Could we place some hoodies in a dystopian near future? Welcome to Shank. Such films provided inspiration for Adam Deacon, an alumni of most of these titles, to parody the movement with Anuvahood which sparked a beef with Clarke that continues to this day.

At the same time a new pattern emerged with the hoodie horror as the so-called underclass evolved into the nemesis of military veterans (see Michael Caine in the “morally repugnant” Harry Brown), nice middle-class couples (Eden Lake) and school teachers (F). What had been an art form used to provide a voice for a generation had metamorphosed into one which served to condemn them. 2010’s horror-thriller Cherry Tree Lane was one of the few films that attempted to critique the trend. A similar blurring of such prejudices was also represented by the redemptive journey of Moses’ gang in 2011’s Attack the Block.

Both extremes of the genre have been quiet of late. Perhaps because it would be impossible to top the profile generated by that of Plan B’s iLL Manors. Maybe it’s due to the decline of the DVD market, a format in which such movies were enduringly popular. Or it could be down to the success of Anuvahood: once a genre is sent up by itself, it takes some time to revive its credibility. Who has seen any of the American Pie sequels post-Not Another Teen Movie? A revival will surely come, for like the football hooligan genre, its rich territory for those suffering budgetary or imaginative poverty.

For now, hoodie-style characters are appearing in other narratives. Take Taron Egerton’s Eggsy in Kingsman: A Secret Service. Essentially a contemporary approximation of the age-old “kid from the wrong side of the tracks”, Eggsy can only flourish under the guidance of his suave mentor Harry Hart (Colin Firth). It seems that as Kidulthood evolved into adulthood, the hoodie film has been defeated in British’s cinema’s class war.