Carol Reed (director)
BFI Film (studio)
19 August 2019 (released)
21 August 2019
This somewhat schmaltzy depiction of bustling Anglo-Jewish life, played out along London’s Petticoat Lane Market in the 1950s, might not be everyone’s idea of a successful slice of nostalgia though the movie – after a story by Wolf Mankowitz – boasts impressive performances by David Kossoff, Diana Dors and Joe Robinson.
Welcome to Petticoat Lane Market where people work hard to carve out a meagre living and where everyone dreams of better things. One of the central characters is little Joe (a way too posh Jonathan Ashmore), a special protégé of local tailor Mr. Kandinsky (David Kossoff) – a somewhat weary elderly man whose wisdom doesn’t stop him from dreaming just like everyone else. Nothing too fancy or out of reach mind you… though a steam press would do nicely! In turn Sam (Joe Robinson), one of his employees who works as an under-presser, has massive ambitions to become Mr. World. However, his more down-to-earth fiancée Sonia (blond bombshell Diana Dors playing against type here) merely dreams of becoming Sam’s wife and thus is more concerned with acquiring the necessary furniture and assorted domestic appliances for their future ‘dream home’. Torn between his own ambitions and Sonia’s demands, Sam takes up wrestling in Blackie Isaacs Gym so he can afford to buy a bling-ring for his dame. Unfortunately, Blackie (Lou Jacobi) is a bit of a dodger to say the least and to make things worse he has his eyes set on Sonia.
Meanwhile, poor lad Joe keeps on burying yet another tiny chick in a makeshift graveyard nearby tailor Kandinsky’s shop – the little chicks just keep on dying and one can’t help feeling for Joe as he buries the baby bird next to already existing graves. While everyone keeps on dreaming and hoping, one day Joe and Mr. Kandinsky talk about magical unicorns. The old man makes Joe believe that these mystical creatures apparently grant wishes and bring good fortune. Sure enough, while strolling along the market Joe discovers a baby goat with just one horn in the middle of its forehead and instantly believes he found ‘his’ unicorn, which he attains cheaply – only for it to escape and create havoc among the market stalls before it is captured again. While all the others laugh at Joe for having bought a young goat (and, as it turns out, a very sick one at that) the good-hearted tailor plays along and offers shelter for Joe’s ‘unicorn’.
There isn’t much of a plot as such. The fate of the main cast members takes its course though the film ends on a decidedly sombre note when the baby goat dies (although tailor Kandinsky manages to hide the sad truth from Joe by telling him that unicorns travel back to their magical land once they have fulfilled their purpose). Late that evening, Kandinsky carries the dead goat, wrapped in a blanket, to the ‘animal graveyard’. At the same time, a Rabbi pushing a horn gramophone walks into the opposite direction (a recurring image in the film).
A KID FOR TWO FARTHINGS (a line from an Aramaic song) was director Reed’s first film in colour and it serves the authentic portrayal of 1950’s working class East End, which has long since vanished, only too well. Although David Kosoff’s portrayal as the ‘yiddish’ tailor Mr. Kandinsky occasionally runs close to becoming a clichéd stereotype, his performance anchors the action around him. Incidentally, it was Kossoff who – together with Alfie Bass (who briefly appears here) – starred once again as a Jewish tailor in the ghostly short film BESPOKE OVERCOAT, also after a story by Wolf Mankowitz and made in the same year as A KID… As for Jonathan Ashmore (who isn’t quite right in the part of a working class East End kid), he did not pursue an acting career but an academic one instead and nowadays lectures as Professor of Biophysics.
The film is released in HD-Dual Format and comes with fascinating Special Features including archive films of various London markets, the docu ‘London after the War’ as well as archive films about wrestling and boxing, plus interviews and booklet.