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Using two film case studies, illustrate how films in Britain refract ideas over class, gender, genre, history, violence or landscape

Module: British Cinema
Module Coordinator: Dr Emma Austin
Academic Year 2 (2021/2022)

Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are two of my favorite films, so I was thrilled to be able to write an essay about them. I feel this is some of my best work for my second year of study and it was ultimately the start of my thinking for writing about class in my final year dissertation. Part of the assessment criteria was to include five annotated references.

This essay will discuss Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007) in relation to how the films refract ideas over class. Both films were directed by Edgar Wright, written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, and star Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as the lead actors. They are both parodies of their respective genres (Comedy Horror, and Comedy Action) and deal with social class in their own ways, some more subtle than others. Whilst Shaun of the Dead subtly deals with the social isolation of the lower class and middle class within an urban environment, Hot Fuzz concerns itself with divides a community can form for itself within the rural environment, but the underlying comedy of the film has roots in 1930’s comedy cinema with how it portrayed the working class and how one may identify with these themes. There is less written about Hot Fuzz, so I will offer my own interpretation, whilst citing relevant examples.

Shaun of the Dead follows the titular character, Shaun (Simon Pegg), as he races to save his family and friends from a zombie apocalypse. Shaun is a working-class, borderline middle-class, shop worker who lives with his middle-class friend, Pete (Peter Serafinowicz), from college and lower-class friend, Ed (Nick Frost), whom he has known since primary school. The fact that Ed is unemployed and living for free is a source of conflict between Shaun and Pete, as well as between Shaun and his girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield). Liz breaks up with Shaun because she is not content with their lives being spent without ambition and too frequently at the Winchester pub. Shaun’s living arrangements are a subtle representation of his social status: Pete lives upstairs whilst Shaun and Ed live downstairs, ‘below’ their peer.

When we first meet Shaun, he is staring blankly at Liz, monotonously smoking a cigarette, and drinking a beer. Later, he shuffles into the living room groaning like a zombie, (a scene which is repeated at the end of the film). He waits in line for and sits on the bus alongside others but is not truly aware of what is around him. “The mundane, highly routine nature of modern British life is captured here with real simplicity.” (Fitzgerald, 2010, p. 205). Lindsey Decker discusses this further: “the film specifically comments on the debasement inherent in a service economy, the dominant economic system that emerged after the Thatcher government privatized, and devastated, British industry.” (2016, p. 72). Decker continues to cite examples of how working in Britain changed at the turn of the century. “…with the rise of ‘flexible’ jobs associated with variable-schedule service work and freelance contract work, employment had become less stable, while the shift to service work meant an increasing number of jobs required repetitive, mindless tasks.” (2016, p. 72). The film directly addresses these roles as ones that are performed by zombies, by showing us the television montage nearing the end of the film. “The montage shows zombies taking on the drudgery of service work after the infection has been brought under control. A reporter does a human interest piece on how the ’mobile deceased retained their primal instincts’, which makes them ‘ideal recruitment for the service industry’”. (Decker, 2016, pp. 72-73). Critically, Decker also points out how Shaun can be identified as a zombie from the moment we see him, even though he is never bitten, and we do not see the transformation we see in Philip and Barbara because Shaun is already metaphorically a zombie.

Kim Edwards summarises Shaun’s obliviousness: “Shaun always staggers down his hallway and zombie-groans upon waking of a morning, but he is so immersed in the walking coma of his hangover that he cannot even tell the difference between the apocalypse and the aftermath of a normal Saturday night.” (2008, p. 101). This is reinforced by his second walk to the shops – it plays out almost identically as the first for him and he is oblivious to the changes: The car window is smashed, the delivery bikes are knocked over, the homeless man’s dog is missing and there is blood on the door of the drink cabinet. In fact, when Shaun is in the shop, the man on the radio is shouting in Hindi: “This is a warning! Dead people are attacking the live ones and they’re doing this to…”. Whilst being more of a “hidden joke” or easter egg, it could be argued that should the man have been speaking English, Shaun would not have noticed due to him being so oblivious to what else is happening around him. Edwards continues: “The satire is twofold: not only were London and its inhabitants already zombified before the event, but Shaun himself is a mindless and shambolic anti-hero who now fits in comfortably with the post-horror surroundings and meandering monsters.” (2008, p. 101).

John Fitzgerald continues to discuss these opening scenes: “This is further strengthened by Shaun’s own behaviour from his daily trip to the corner shop to purchase a newspaper and can of Coke to the mind-numbing bus ride to work. Self-absorbed, he fails to see what is actually going on around him…” (2010, pp. 205-206).

Linnie Blake writes: “Shaun of the Dead thus seems to explore how late-capitalist society infantilises its males, bombarding them with mass cultural simulacra of their own desires so insistently that they exist in tranquillised isolation from each other; unable to think, act or live for themselves.” (2008, p. 169). There are several scenes which refract this idea. Firstly, in the opening credits, the checkout assistants and people standing at the bus stop seem to move in unison. Secondly when Ed is playing his video game, Shaun directs him “upper left, reload, good shot!”. And thirdly, this scene is mirrored towards the end of the film when Shaun is shooting the undead and this time Ed is directing Shaun by repeating the same words. All these scenes represent the characters “unable to think, act or live for themselves”.

Hot Fuzz follows Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg), a London Metropolitan Police Constable who excels at his job to such a degree, his superiors transfer him to a Sergeant position in the Gloucestershire countryside town of Sandford. Nicholas struggles to adapt from being an urban police officer dealing with knife crime and armed terrorists to being a rural ‘bobby’, as is evident in the scene where he is called to investigate an escaped swan. Mysterious deaths lead Nicholas to believe something sinister is happening in the village and he goes to extreme lengths to uncover a conspiracy created by the village’s elite who are unwilling to welcome change to their village.

During the scene in which the conspiracy is revealed, (1 hour 20 minutes), the reason for each character’s death is revealed: Martin Blower (David Threlfall) for being an appalling actor and the Neighbourhood Watch Alliance did not want the dramatic society’s reputation to fail. Eve Draper (Lucy Punch) for having a “very annoying laugh”. George Merchant (Ron Cook) for building a large house which did not fit in with the village’s “rustic aesthetic”. Tim Messenger (Adam Buxton) for tarnishing the local paper with “tabloid journalism” and inaccuracies. Leslie Tiller (Anne Reid) because they did not want her to share her horticultural expertise with the “heathens” at Buford Abbey. All to ensure the village wins the Best Village of the year award. Every murder was because of a change the Neighbourhood Watch Alliance did not want to accept. The village’s elite had run the village how they saw fit for twenty years, allowing the villagers to live their lives in a “mundane, highly routine” way. (Fitzgerald, 2010, p. 205).

A recurring theme in Shaun of the Dead was that of the characters monotonously going about their everyday lives, unable to think for themselves, performing “repetitive, mindless tasks.” (Decker, 2016, p. 72). This occurs in Hot Fuzz within the lives of the villagers who are not at the head of the conspiracy, specifically, in Danny (Nick Frost). Whilst Danny is revealed to be involved in the conspiracy, (although unaware of the murderous intent of his father and Neighbourhood Watch Alliance), his everyday life consists of him going to work and performing mindless tasks, such as sitting in the police car watching people in the high-street, or for speeding cars, going to the pub after work, getting drunk, and going home to watch a film. At 1 hour 25 minutes, Inspector Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent) says to Nicholas: “You’ve seen the people, they’re happy, contented.” to which Nicholas responds, “They’re living in a dream world.” Later, (1 hour 40 minutes), after a gunfight at the local pub, Nicholas reasons “You can arrest us if you like, you can throw us in prison and go back to being blind submissive slaves, or you can be real police officers and help us bring an end to this absurd story”. Nicholas’ reasoning metaphorically awakens his colleagues from the prison of their own lives and from this point forward they are no longer bound by the lives they were living. This is evident in Sergeant Tony Fisher (Kevin Eldon), who has been portrayed as unable to think for himself at several points in the film, instead turning to Nicholas for advice and concluding “what he said.”. After his awakening, just before they storm the supermarket, (1 hour 42 minutes), the roles are reversed, instead Sergeant Fisher lays out the plan, with Nicholas concluding “what he said.”.

In their 2007 article, Jonathan Romney discusses how Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg prepared for Hot Fuzz: “While the team didn’t specifically look to comic models, they did watch films about cut-off communities…” (p. 40). The presence of class appears to have influenced how Hot Fuzz was written: Many members of the Neighbourhood Watch Alliance are middle-class, borderline upper-class. They are business owners, (Simon Skinner, Roy and Mary Porter), or hold highly respectable jobs, (Inspector Frank Butterman, Dr. Robin Hatcher, Rev. Philip Shooter) and look down on the lower class and working class. Their social position may reflect how small villages in the real world are run by their residents, with the village elders or higher class having more of a say in how things are run. In particular, the murders that do not get a specific reason during the reveal of the conspiracy are that of the “gypsy scum” travellers and “thieving kids”. Shortly after, we see the underaged drinkers, street performer and hoody thief the Neighbourhood Watch Alliance have murdered – all considered beneath them, or lower/working class, and all who may be seen as lowering the image of the village. Those that remain would fall under the “middle-England” definition: “These people are (lower) middle class, white (there are no immigrants among them), heterosexual, hard working and responsible.” (Inman, 2007, p. 192).

Neil Archer discusses the use of location within Hot Fuzz. “An emphasis on the various motifs of historically preserved middle-England life […] should not obscure the fact that much of the film’s action takes place within what Marc Augé (1995) has famously called the ‘non-places’ of contemporary urban and suburban experience.” (2016, p. 50). Non-places are used in Hot Fuzz in various ways, but importantly in critical scenes. The supermarket, for example, or the petrol station in which Nicholas decides to return to Sandford. These places are commonly associated with a working class: supermarket workers and petrol station attendants. The petrol station attendant easily resembles a zombie, which returns to the original discussion of “zombies taking on the drudgery of service work…” Decker, 2016, pp. 72-73).

Lawrence Napper discusses (2012, p. 43) Andy Medhurst’s essay (1992, pp. 168-188) about comedy in the 1930’s and makes an interesting point I would like to expand upon: “Medhurst emphasises the way that comedy and identity are bound together, often along national and regional as well as class lines.” (2012, p. 43). Although discussing 1930’s comedy, this statement holds true in British comedy today. Hot Fuzz’s intended audience would be the working/middle class and the way the higher class is portrayed in the film enables that connection to be made to the audience’s own identity. In the film the conspiracy was created by the higher class, or those who perceive themselves as the higher class, and in the real world, an audience resentful of such people may even be able to envision such a scenario playing out in reality – comedy and identity are bound together, along a class line.

As we have seen, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz deal with class in their own ways. Shaun of the Dead may be interpreted as a class-piece designed to provoke a conversation about a post-Thatcher economy, with the representation of the working class’s jobs as “mundane, highly routine”. (Fitzgerald, 2010, p. 205): They are shown to be achievable, literally, by zombies, so could we not have considered people in those roles before the apocalypse as zombies anyway? Hot Fuzz, on the other hand, deals more with the “dream world” the village’s higher class have created for “the greater good”. These ideals are not in favour of a lesser class, or of those willing to upset the balance.


  • Archer, N. (2016). ‘The shit just got real’: Parody and National Film Culture in The Strike and Hot Fuzz. Journal of British Cinema and Television, 13(1), 42-60.
    • Annotation: This article provided an interesting insight into how Hot Fuzz conforms to a national identity or national film culture. It was interesting to see the comparisons to a Hollywood action scene from a parody context. It was particularly interesting when discussing the use of spaces and non-spaces with the use of the supermarket and model village for much of the films action, and the petrol station for a scene in which Nicholas decides to return to Sandford, for which I found helpful to discuss. The article also discusses the context of parody and how “ways that action films can provide such fortuitous get-outs for their protagonists” (p. 55).
  • Blake, L. (2008). The wounds of nations: Horror cinema, historical trauma and national identity. Manchester University Press.
  • Decker, L. (2016). British cinema is undead: American horror, British comedy and generic hybridity in Shaun of the Dead. Transnational Cinemas, 7(1), 67-81.
    • Annotation: This article details how Shaun of the Dead has many similarities to other films from the horror genre, specifically Dawn of the Dead (Romero, G. (Director). (1978). Dawn of the Dead [Motion Picture]. Laurel Group.) and 28 Days Later (Boyle, D. (Director). (2002). 28 Days Later [Motion Picture]. DNA Films.). It also discusses in detail how Shaun of the Dead attacks the idea that in a post-Thatcher economy, many job roles “required repetitive, mindless tasks”, exploring how the people who performed these tasks resembled zombies in many ways. The article compares scenes from the film with this theory. This source was particularly helpful in starting my research into this topic. I successfully explored several cited sources from the article whilst examining key points Decker makes.
  • Edwards, K. (2008, June). Moribundity, Mundanity, and Modernity: Shaun of the Dead. Screen Education, 50, 99-103.
    • Annotation: Kim Edwards discusses how Shaun (Shaun of the Dead) is “of the dead himself” (p.99) and how even though he starts the day oblivious to everything around him, ultimately, he sets his goals and achieves them, with the end result being that he has made very little changes to his lifestyle and that the post-apocalyptic lifestyle is better suited to him. This article was useful because, as it also addresses, a lot of academic work discussing Shaun of the Dead focuses on genre, instead of social/social-political themes. Edwards details well the deeper meaning behind some scenes with Shaun in particular, but also Shaun’s relationship with Ed, Liz, his mother and stepfather, detailing how in order for Shaun to achieve his goals (“Go round to Mum’s, Get Liz back, Sort life out”, p.102), the film could not have played out any differently.
  • Fitzgerald, J. (2010). Studying British Cinema: 1999-2009. Auteur Publishing.
    • Annotation: John Fitzgerald discusses Shaun of the Dead in relation to Spaced (Wright, E. (Director). (1999-2001). Spaced [TV series]. Paramount Comedy Channel.) and how it has some similarities in style, however he focuses on breaking down Shaun of the Dead from each critical scene, pointing out critical social elements to the film, such as, Shaun’s relationships with Ed, Liz, his mother and stepfather, but specifically his “buddy” relationship with Ed, who “at turns both exasperates and entertains Shaun”. Fitzgerald also discusses how the zombies don’t seem particularly devastating as you would expect to see in a zombie apocalypse film. This source was useful, as it provided a second view on similar content as discussed by Kim Edwards (2008).
  • Inman, N. (2007). Politipedia: A compendium of Useful and Curious Facts about British Politics. Harriman House Ltd.
  • Medhurst, A. (1992). Music Hall and British Cinema. In C. Barr (Ed.), All Our Yesterdays. 90 Years of British Cinema (pp.168-188). British Film Institute.
  • Napper, L. (2012). No Limit. British class and comedy of the 1930s. In E.Q. Hunter & L. Porter (Ed.), British Comedy Cinema (pp. 38-50). Routledge.
  • Romney, J. (2007). Magnum Farce. Film Comment, 43(2). 38-40.
    • Annotation: As one of the few articles I could find which focused purely on Hot Fuzz, this article was useful when considering how the comedic origins of the film may be tied with class. Particularly how it is stated that the team “watched films about cut-off communities” (p. 40). It would stand to reason that class is dealt with in many of these films, and this ultimately led to Wright and Pegg deciding to have the village’s middle-to-higher class portray the villains who, in their determination to keep a perfect village, are essentially waging war on the lower and working class. They spoke of their experience meeting someone who inspired a character for Hot Fuzz, (p. 40), so it’s also possible their experience in their research was influenced by such people.
  • Wright, E. (Director). (2004). Shaun of the Dead [Motion Picture]. Universal Pictures.
  • Wright, E. (Director). (2007). Hot Fuzz [Motion Picture]. Universal Pictures.