Bait: The Great British Divide

White cliffs. Grey clouds. Black sea. These variation of shades spread across the town of Cornwall in Mark Jenkin’s latest feature Bait. Entirely captured on 1976 Bolex Clockwork Cameras, Jenkin had used 100ft rolls of black and white Kodak stock to picture his local town. Using this entirely out-dated equipment, Jenkin caused issues for himself with the inability to record sound on set. With all the dialogue then being dubbed in post, Bait’s visual and auditory messages reminisce to the early stages of British filmmaking, where the clean digital-less world is nowhere to be seen. Tracing back to our heritage, both in landscape and film quality, Bait may be trying to agree on the political message of nationality and identity that has flooded the country over the past few years. But with a plot centred on locals, gentrification and boosting the economy, Bait instead highlights the great British divide that has caused turmoil within the UK.

Whereas other British independent filmmakers have welcomed the ease of digital technology, with the capacity to review footage instantly as well as the cost-effective element, digital tech has quite truly renovated small budget crews. Films like Wild Rose and The Last Tree, having been shot on digital and also released this year, highlight the strong catalogue of British independent features with stories focusing around identity. Whilst those two highlight the hope of finding or regaining it, Bait takes the typical British approach of being despondent as identity is taken away. Centred around fisherman Martin Ward (Edward Rowe), Martin is a fisherman without a boat, thanks to his brother Steven (Giles King) having repurposed it as a tourist tripper. As well as this, his childhood home has been bought as a get-away for London ‘emmets’ (summer tourists), the Leigh family. 

With the supporting cast around him all choosing a side as the tension, akin to the tide, slowly comes in for the town, these other figures further demonstrate how the divide goes further than age and social class. Sandra (Mary Woodvine) and Tim Leigh (Simon Shepherd), along with their two children settle in for their vacation whilst unpacking their Waitrose shopping. Their son Hugo (Jowan Jacobs), either spends his time moping in their second-home or paying for pints down the local pub owned by Liz (Stacey Guthrie). Their daughter Katie (Georgia Ellery) takes a liking to Martin’s nephew Neil (Isaac Woodvine), hoping to strike a Romeo and Juliet bond. Whilst Tim and Sandra may believe their summer money helps local businesses and British tourism rather than flying off to a Greek island, Martin takes pain in the invasion of his childhood memories. While Martin may blame tourists for the decline of income through fishing, there’s an argument to be made that the decline was inevitable and these tourists are the last straw holding onto Cornwall’s economy, 

Whilst the youths cause their own troubles, their behaviour is clearly influenced by that of their parents or mentors. Martin’s personality believing the Leigh’s ‘owe him one’, leads him to try and take advantage of a parking space just outside their vacating house, one that is not being used up by them. One problem however, it slightly ruins the view of their house, having a rust-bucket car with a collection of dents to go with it. Despite their pleas, Martin ignores them and continues to use this space, causing the Leigh’s to take desperate measures. That desperate measure being to clamp his vehicle, an act that tips everyone over the edge, leading to violence and comments that can’t be taken back.

Albeit this story may focus primarily on locals versus tourists, the divide of this film and its link to the wider context for the whole of Great Britain goes further than this. The split between local workers and city tourists doesn’t have a concluding side that you should agree with. Jenkin may show bias due to his upbringing in Cornwall and his previous work but the Leigh’s presence in Cornwall is clearly boosting the otherwise empty town. Six weeks of rampaging tourism may cause problems for the local residents however this holiday period does then make up for the other uninhabited 46 weeks of the year. Whilst the Leigh family act as snobbish ‘ponces’ that take their good fortune for granted, the wider context of higher social classes placing money into British tourism and therefore back into the economy is not the antagonist of Bait

The distribution of wealth is something that unites all the Cornwall residents together against the Leigh family. Sandra and Tim can spend a small-fortune on Waitrose cheese and wine at the same time when Martin is saving up spare change and notes to afford a boat and get his business back to where it started. Martin may believe his brother Steven is a sell-out turning their father’s boat into a trip for stag-dos and sightseers but Steven is producing more work than Martin himself. Despite his tip bucket and dignity both being empty, Steven is still making more of a living than his brother.

Jenkin’s timing of Bait couldn’t have arrived at a more applicable time in our country’s history. With numerous general elections, growing threats of violence, and the EU referendum that has been the mantelpiece of our news since 2015; division has never felt as active in the local communities. Social media’s ability to voice everyone’s opinion and divisive stances further highlights the differing opinions, giving a platform for people to speak their beliefs. People are only being categorised as one thing or the other and Bait conveys this with the locals and tourists. Katie may have taken a shining to Neil and have formed a bond but Wenna (Chloe Endean) and Martin aren’t welcoming her in with open arms. Subsequently Hugo is bitter towards Neil and his relationship with his sister, not just dismissing his work but actively insulting it.

With Bait, Jenkin makes a clear point for both welcoming traditional British life and also advocating for change. Cornwall was once a beautiful and secluded part of Britain that benefited from the lack of tourism and conglomerate companies down the high streets. The rise of tourism may have allowed more accessibility to the world-class beaches and towns of Cornwall but at the same time it has taken away its beauty indefinitely. It’s hard to appreciate the quiet bleakness of Cornwall stuck in a traffic jam along the A39. This is why Bait is shot on 16mm, showing Cornwall for how Jenkin remembers it and for what it can no longer be. The gentrification of Cornwall has a similar story to the rise of digital filmmaking: digital cameras have made a previously rarefied art form more accessible but also more sterile and somewhat less artisanal as the gentrification of cinema. Bait should not be measured in box office success or critical acclaim but it’s wise to note that it is the most successful Cornish film ever made. Having made over £400,000 in UK ticket sales, it is by far the most successful film created by a Cornish writer, director and cast. A feat that was possible thanks to the micro-budget production crewed by staff and students from Falmouth University on the south Cornish coast. The divide between Brits may still carry on with rural versus urban, remain versus leave and youth versus old but Bait has clearly made an impression on UK cinema-goers, highlighting topics like gentrification that most people try to ignore.