Derek Jarman sets out to paint a picture of the future of punk England, or as punk would have it, the no future at all of England. Jarman has assembled about him various luminaries from the British gay and punk scene, including Adam Ant, Wayne County, Ian Charleson, Jordan, even Toyah Wilcox. There are also Little Nell and Richard OBrien who gives the nearest thing to a professional performance in the film, his melodious quoting of cod-Shakespeare over the end credits giving the nonsense a dignity of sorts from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). (The Rocky Horror association is made pointedly obvious by Jordans quoting of the Rocky Horror credo Dont dream it, be it during one of her rambling history lessons).
Derek Jarmans intent was clearly to create some sort of socio-analytical time capsule from the punk era. (In a biting piece of social commentary, the film was made to coincide with Queen Elizabeth IIs Silver Jubilee celebrations). One can see what Jarman is grasping at but the actual result is far from that a pretentious treatise that grasps at being punk but just comes out as posed. Jarman wants to say something but only produces trite and banal punk cliches sex is boring or America is dead as a matter of fact it always was.
There is no plot to the film it seems to be whatever Jarman felt like filming on a particular day, be it Jordan and Toyah Wilcox in boxing gloves or a dreadfully meaningful crucifixion of Christ come orgy in an underground nightclub; a ballerina dancing around a bonfire in the streets watched by masked male nude satyr figures. It goes on and on and on until one wants to scream. Occasionally there are some images that strike with the potent anarchist ferocity of punk the brutal beating and stabbing of a policeman; the fire-bombing of a cops house; burning baby carriages in the streets.
There are some minor diversions such as a brash and impudent soundtrack, which is fairly good as punk goes, especially a recital of Rule Britannia by Jordan. Later-to-be pop singer Toyah Wilcox, unrecognisable as a brattish and nasty punkette in a dyed orange crewcut, has considerable amount of fun. Some critics have found this an incredibly profound film and there was a time when it was in danger of becoming a midnight cult item.
Derek Jarman later returned to his portrait of a socially collapsing near-future in The Last of England (1987), which deals with a post-Thatcherite England.