BFI Films (studio)
11 June 2018 (released)
This 9-Disc set contains some of the most revered movies by ground-breaking British film company Woodfall Films including LOOK BACK IN ANGER, THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER and GIRL WITH GREEN EYES.
That the late director Tony Richardson occupied a unique position in the history of British cinema cannot be denied. On the whole, Richardson's films left an indelible mark that was to set a precedent and to a large extent he created 'a completely new angle'. Here we can see working class folk as intelligent and forceful and not as idiotic and downtrodden stereotypes, as is so perfectly exemplified by Tom Courtenay's rebellious anarchist Colin Smith in THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER, but more about that later.
To begin at the beginning... Writer John Osborne created something of a sensation with his 1956 play LOOK BACK IN ANGER. Richardson's first Woodfall production was an adaptation of the play made in 1959 and features an absolutely scorching performance by a then burning Richard Burton as Jimmy Porter (Kenneth Haigh had played the part on stage). Porter is a seething melting pot of working class ‘Angst’, he is clever, cynical, one hell of a talker and an ace trad-trumpeter to boot who earns his living running a fruit stall in the local market (when of course he should have been a playwright like his creator or at least writing a column in The Guardian). He is also married to Alison (Mary Ure), a middle class woman and he resents her for that fact. Jimmy is, in fact, a monster. This is kitchen sink drama brought to new heights. Richard ‘the voice’ Burton is quite sensational and eats his way through the film like some virulent cancer. One feels sure that Osborne must have seen much of himself here.
Wasting no time at all Richardson returned to Osborne the very next year with THE ENTERTAINER (1960). Osborne trained as an actor and shows considerable insight with this poignant piece. Writer and director were of similar age; both born in the late 20's. Here we have the great Laurence Olivier (the first actor to receive a peerage) as somewhat washed up old time comedian/music hall performer Archie Rice (“I met my girlfriend in a revolving door… we've been going around together ever since”). Archie is topping the bill in a revue at a seaside resort (Morecambe was the location) and not exactly playing to packed houses. Rice is an aging, unhappily married man who is up for 'playing a little bit away from home' and really belongs to another epoch. Bizarrely, then popular TV broadcaster Macdonald Hobley says of Archie (who is the judge at a beauty queen contest) “Where did they dig him up from?” Yet Hobley himself appears far more of a conservative 'old hat'. Olivier is beautifully cast as Archie; his Shakespearian contemporaries could not have done this at all. He is ably supported by Joan Plowright (can you feel a chemistry?) as his daughter Jean who seems concerned about the Suez Crisis, while raspy-voiced Roger Livesey plays his dad Billy. Olivier creates exactly the right amount of pathos and the slight effeminate touch to the act works wonderfully.
Next up is director Karel Reisz's SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING (1960), for which Richardson produced. The film put Northern actor Albert Finney on the map. Taken from Alan Sillitoe's novel we are here presented with another slice of 'glorious' Northern kitchen sink drama’. Finney is Arthur Seaton, a real jack-the-lad and no mistake. Arthur has a crap job (like most town folk) and likes to enjoy himself (why not?). Unfortunately his philandering ways land him in trouble. This movie hit a nerve with working class-filmgoers all over the country. Arthur seems to revel in his mischief-making ways: shooting at an old woman’s derriere with his air gun, punch-ups and on and on. The identification level was near total. John Dankworth provided a memorable score and Freddie Francis did the atmospheric photography.
A TASTE OF HONEY (1961), after a script by Shelagh Delaney and directed by Richardson, was certainly courageous and groundbreaking. Another slice of Northern kitchen sink drama, in this case a young Jo (19-year old Rita Tushingham making her debut) living in a boring drab environment which she shares with her irksome alcoholic mother Helen (who else but the irksome Dora Bryan). Jo spends most of her time dreaming until she breaks away from home and forms a friendship with sympathetic young black sailor Jimmy (Paul Danquah) by whom she gets pregnant (outrageous for the time) and is then befriended by gay man Geoffrey Ingham (the one and very much only Murray Melvin). ‘Tush’ was never a chocolate box beauty but she excels in the role and makes this plaintive and telling effort very much her own. You will always think of her when you hear “The Good Ship sails on the ally - ally- oh”.
If anything, Richardson bettered SATURDAY NIGHT… with yet another Sillitoe-based effort: THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER (1962) which was to put Finney's northern contemporary, Tom Courtenay, firmly on the map. Obviously we are back in the North again – in this case Nottingham. Like the previous film it was shot in black and white. It simply could not have been otherwise. Courtenay's character Colin Smith is particularly interesting as he is working class yet intelligent and rebellious and simply refuses to play the game. After getting into trouble with the law, our anti-hero Colin finds himself in a borstal where it is discovered that he has a great aptitude for long distance running. Ruxton Towers Reformatory Governor (Michael Redgrave) is a rather decent man when it comes down to it and sees something special in Colin. But such blinkered a man will never understand what makes the Colin's of this world tick… Richardson, on the whole, had a great feel for finding young new talent and Courtenay (looking and sounding dead right) is quite outstanding, as is John Addison’s memorable score with its unforgettable and highly evocative trumpet cadenza.
Next up was what many considered to be Richardson's masterpiece though for this reviewer this would appear to be a singular anomaly. TOM JONES (1963), based on old Etonian Henry Fielding's 18th century satirical novel and scripted by John Osborne, marks a totally different departure from the director's normal oeuvre. This is a seriously big budget affair (a million in '63 was big) and decidedly no kitchen sink drama. Albert Finney returns as our illegitimate hero who, over the years, gets involved in all sorts of misadventures, not to mention bawdy adventures. The film is sumptuous to look at and Richardson's favoured cinematographer Walter Lassaly clearly had a field day. We also have an entire host of British character actors. Sadly, despite garnering a whopping 4 ‘Oscars’, the film simply has no stuffing and Micheál Mac Liammóir’s narration cannot overcome an empty narrative. The less said the better! Richardson should have kept with the kitchen sink dramas and left 18th century wealthy satires alone, though this satire may work as a novel.
THE GIRL WITH THE GREEN EYES (1964 – directed by Desmond Davies) brings back Rita Tushingham (soon to become a 60's icon) in this adaptation of an Edna O`Brien novel. Tush is Kate Brady, a young Catholic Irish girl working in a Dublin grocery store who shares a flat with her friend Baba (Lynn Redgrave). The gals do what most do at their age – go dancing and going to the movies though the more mature Baba seems much more comfortable when it comes to the opposite sex. During an outing to the countryside the girls meet the middle-aged author Eugene Gaillard (Peter Finch - now wasn't he always having affairs with younger women in films) who appreciates the finer things in life and lives separated from his wife and child. Whaddya know, Kate falls head over heels for him and after a chance encounter in a bookstore the two strike up a friendship which quickly turns into romance (though initially Eugene does not think it necessary to mention his wife and daughter to Kate). Soon, Kate’s strict Catholic upbringing and her morals put a damper on things, not made easier by the fact that her family deeply disapprove of her sinful liaison with a married man who isn’t even Catholic, while the local priest tries to frighten the bejeezus out of the poor gal. Sticking a finger up to her narrow-minded family, Kate and Eugene eventually marry when his wife, who now lives in the US, finally obtains a divorce. Eugene’s intellectual and free-thinking friends, however, find themselves at odds with Kate who soon begins to feel alienated… Yes, it is Edna O'Brian country. Did someone say Edna O’Brien had Christopher Lee in mind for the male lead? Now that would have been funny! Not all that much happens in THE GIRL… but both Tushingham and Finch make this a standout affair thanks to their combined sensitive performances.
Last up we enter the world of lunacy with director Richard Lester’s film adaptation of Ann Jellicoe's stage hit THE KNACK AND HOW TO GET IT (1965). Forget about a plot… there isn't really one to speak of. You'll either love this movie or hate it, a bit like Marmite (this reviewer veers toward the latter). Tushingham is back again; once again playing a young Northern girl looking for digs in London. Fortunately the rather gauche schoolteacher Colin (Michael Crawford - you can see his ‘Frank Spencer’ from hit sitcom SOME MOTHERS DO ÀVE ÈM coming…) has a big house and plenty of room. One of his tenants is the 'ultra-cool' Tolen (Ray Brooks) who likes Thelonius Monk (“He’s very deep”) and presumably the possessor of 'The Knack' - an incorrigible and eminently successful womaniser (unlike Colin) who just happens to drive a Lambretta scooter. Add to that we have nutty interloper Tom (Donal Donelly) who paints everything white and soon we are off on a series of truly scatty escapades across the metropolis with Tush screaming “Rape!” at the top of her voice. One year earlier, Richard Lester directed the Beatles film A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and you can really see where the absurd, sometimes even surreal sense of humour in THE KNACK… stems from. The film won the ‘Palme d’Or’ at the 1965 Cannes Film Festivals though it would be fair to assume that it doesn’t appeal to everyone.
As is usual with BFI releases the set also includes an absolute monster load of exciting Bonus material - far too many to mention here. For anyone interested in British Cinema this box set is obviously a must!