Jubilee (1978 film)

Jubilee is a 1978 cult film directed by Derek Jarman. It stars Jenny Runacre, Ian Charleson and a host of punk rockers, including Adam Ant and Toyah. The title refers to the Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II in 1977.

Jubilee (1977 film) poster.jpg
Directed byDerek Jarman
Produced byHoward Malin
James Whaley
Written byDerek Jarman
Christopher Hobbs
StarringJenny Runacre
Nell Campbell
Linda Spurrier
Toyah Willcox
Adam Ant
Wayne County
Music byChelsea
Suzi Pinns
Brian Eno
Siouxsie and the Banshees
Wayne County
Toyah Willcox
Adam Ant
Ludwig Minkus
CinematographyPeter Middleton
Edited byNick Barnard
Tom Priestley
Release date
3 February 1978 (UK)
September 1979 (USA)
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget£50,000[1] or £200,000[2]


Queen Elizabeth I (Jenny Runacre) is transported forward in time by the occultist John Dee (Richard O'Brien) by the aid of the spirit guide Ariel (a character from William Shakespeare's The Tempest) whom he commands. Elizabeth arrives in the shattered Britain of the 1970s. Queen Elizabeth II is dead, killed in an arbitrary mugging, and Elizabeth I moves through the social and physical decay of the city observing the sporadic activities of a group of aimless nihilists, including Amyl Nitrate (Jordan), Bod (Runacre in a dual role), Chaos (Hermine Demoriane), Crabs (Nell Campbell), and Mad (Toyah Willcox).

Numerous punk icons appear in the film including Jordan (a Malcolm McLaren protégé), Toyah Willcox, Nell Campbell, Adam Ant, Hermine Demoriane and Wayne County. It features performances by Wayne County and Adam and the Ants. There are also cameo appearances by the Slits and Siouxsie and the Banshees. The film was scored by Brian Eno.

It begins with a scene where John Dee summons the spirit Ariel for Queen Elizabeth I; the action then moves to an anarchic present day where law and order has broken down, and punk gangs roam the streets committing acts of murder and larceny. In one squat, Amyl Nitrite is instructing a group of young women—in so doing, valourising the violent criminal activity of Myra Hindley—before she reminisces about her time as a ballet dancer and introduces the audience to Mad, Crabs, Chaos, Sphinx and Angel (two incestuous bisexual brothers) and Bod, a sex-hating anarchist. Bod has just strangled and killed Elizabeth II and stolen her crown.

From there the group move on to a café, where Crabs picks up a young musician named the Kid, Mad tears up some postcards and Bod attacks a waitress with a bottle of ketchup. Bod contacts impresario Borgia Ginz. On meeting Ginz, however, she is surprised to find Amyl performing a pastiche of "Rule Britannia". Sphinx and Angel establish a relationship with Viv, a young former artist, whom they take to meet Max, an ex-soldier. In exchange for sexual favours, Crabs takes the Kid to see Ginz, who auditions him and his band signs them up under the name "Scum". Sphinx and Angel try to talk the Kid out of this, but he just laughs at their lecturing. Ginz is branching out into property management and has purchased 'abandoned' properties such as Westminster Cathedral and Buckingham Palace, which are transformed into musical venues.

Meanwhile, Mad, Bod and Crabs asphyxiate Happy Days, one of Crabs' one-night stands, with red plastic sheeting; and break into the flat of androgynous rock star Lounge Lizard, whom Bod throttles to death. A fight breaks out at a disco session in St. Paul's Crypt between Kid and a policeman. After the gang all watch Kid's TV debut together, Viv and the three males all pay a visit to Max's bingo hall, where violent police activity causes the death of Sphinx, Angel, and the Kid, and two revenge attacks on the police officers responsible. One of them is castrated to death by Mad and Amyl; the other, who has just started an affair with Crabs, is blown up on his doorstep with a petrol bomb by Bod. Finally, Ginz takes the four women off to Dorset and signs a recording contract with them. Interspersed with these displays of contemporary anarchic violence, Dee, Ariel and Elizabeth try to interpret the signs of anarchic modernity around them, before they undertake a pastoral and nostalgic return to the sixteenth century at the film's end.



The film is heavily influenced by the 1970s punk aesthetic in its style and presentation. Shot in grainy colour, it is largely plotless and episodic. Location filming took advantage of London neighbourhoods that were economically depressed and/or still contained large amounts of rubble from the London Blitz.[3]


The film had many critics in British punk circles. Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood manufactured a T-shirt on which was printed an "open letter" to Jarman denouncing the film and his misrepresentations of punk.[4] Jarman, according to biographer Tony Peake, was also critical of punk's fascination with fascism, while mocking its stupidity and petty violence.[5]

The film is now considered a cult classic,[6] and was released by the Criterion Collection.


In November 2017, the film was adapted by Chris Goode as a play at Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre. The film's original star Toyah Willcox (Mad), played Queen Elizabeth and Bod.[7]


  1. ^ Alexander Walker, National Heroes: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties, Harrap, 1985 p. 235
  2. ^ Walsh, John. "Cultivating his own plot." Sunday Times [London, England] 16 Dec. 1990: 2[S3]+. The Sunday Times Digital Archive. Web. 8 Apr. 2014.
  3. ^ Critic Archive (14 May 2016). "Brows Held High: Jubilee" – via YouTube.
  4. ^ Jubilee DVD extras, production diary
  5. ^ "Derek Jarman: five essential films".
  6. ^ "Jubilee at the Lyric Hammersmith - Theatre review".
  7. ^ "JUBILEE - Royal Exchange Theatre". www.royalexchange.co.uk.

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