Cor blimey. We reached the end of the bleeding series. Gutted. Jolly good show. One might well be forgiven for starting another 100 limey efforts in the not so distant future. And what better way to finish than with a bit of street crime, camping, and immigration. Tatty-bye. For now.
Dirty Pretty Things – Stephen Frears (2002)
I spoke in one of our podcasts about the extraordinary filmography of Stephen Frears. A director with a consistent flow of fine films, going right back to the 1980s. One of his most compelling, socially relevant pictures, Dirty Pretty Things, came in 2002. A time when the world was recovering from turmoil, but also, here in the UK, the issue of immigration was getting warmer once again. An inch-perfect, thought-provoking screenplay, written by Steven Knight, explores the underbellies of the lives of two immigrants in London. Nigerian Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a cab driver and front of house clerk at the aptly named Baltic hotel, and Senay (Audrey Tautou), a Turkish Muslim, who is a cleaner at the hotel, though her asylum status does not allow her to work.
We are instantly put in the shoes of these people, good people, as they attempt to evade officials on the prowl for illegals. A doctor formerly, Okwe is often dragged to assist other immigrants with medical needs, and stays on Senay’s couch, even though her religion would forbid such a thing. The shackles thrust upon these people is given stark, empathetic attention by Frears and co. The manager of the hotel, Juan (Sergi López), provides the plot with its villain, running illegal operations behind the scenes, exchanging organs for fake passports. The gulf between the will to survive and the despicable, is alarming. Okwe and Senay have to suffer various ordeals in a social climate that sees them as ejectable. The final moments of them at the airport leaves a lump in your throat. – – – – – Robin
Sightseers – Ben Wheatley (2012)
From the wonderfully deranged mind of Ben Wheatley, Sightseers is a 2012 horror comedy. The film is centred around socially awkward Chris (Steve Oram), who takes his soft voiced and mild-mannered girlfriend Tina (Alice Lowe), on a road trip, much to the chagrin of Tina’s mother (Eileen Davies), who has never forgiven Tina for the death of their dog “Poppy”. At their first stop, the National Tramway Museum, Chris confronts a man (Tony Way) who is littering, who refuses to pick up his rubbish. When they get back to their car, Chris runs him over and kills him. This starts a chain of murder, mayhem and caravans.
Sightseers is very British, in its depiction of emphasising comedic situations and bizarre members of the public. Apparently, The Guardian asked an editor of Caravan Magazine for his opinion and he thought the film, which he described as “absolutely brilliant”, accurately captured the details of caravan holidays. The film captures the dullness of holidaying in Britain, with boring museums, rain and grey skies. Lowe delivers an excellent performance as the awkward Tina, and Oram is fantastic as the muted, yet brutal, Chris. Overall, Sightseers, plays out like a cross between Bonnie & Clyde and Hot Fuzz, making it a perfect pitch-black comedy that’s not for the faint-hearted. – – – – – Bianca
Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels – Guy Ritchie (1998)
Guy Ritchie’s first full-length directorial effort (only a short, “The Hard Case,” proceeds this film) is rife with laughs, action, and the banter-type dialogue that would mark his pictures. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is the story of four friends who find themselves deep into the Britain’s criminal underworld after losing a high-stakes card came to a thug named “Hatchet” Harry (Played vigorously by P.H. Moriarty). Ritchie expertly weaves his cast – sporting now big names like Jason Statham and Vinne Jones when they were relative unknowns – and his film, which combines a plethora of criminals and plots that comes together flawlessly by the end.
Ritchie clearly needed a map to write the screenplay, and the film combines British humor, camaraderie, and verbose dialogue scenes that its actors handle effortlessly. The movie runs 1 hour and 47 minutes and is taut, never wasting a second of screen-time. Ancillary characters such as artist Sting and ex-boxer Larry McLean (who played the enigmatic right-hand thug ‘Barry the Baptist’ here) add to the picture in pleasing ways. Sadly, Barrels would become McLean’s swan song – he would succumb to lung cancer the same year, dying at the young age of 49. – – – – – Mark
The Kiss in the Tunnel – George Albert Smith (1899)
This 1 minute short is pretty much summed up in its title. The film starts with a train moving down the track. In a car, seated next to each other in a companionable way, is a couple who are reading, probably wife and husband. As the train enters a tunnel, the man abandons his reading, turns to the woman, and kisses her; she is somewhat reluctant. As the train leaves the tunnel, they return to their books. This film contains of the earliest shots of the technique called “phantom ride”. This entails the camera and or cameraman positioned onto the front of the train, here, and the viewer then gets the viewpoint / experience of being at the forefront of the then moving train.
The short is actually quite creative with the way it uses editing to somewhat tell a story. The use of coming into the tunnel, having the kissing and then going out of the tunnel was certainly creative for its day and makes this a rather important picture for early cinema. The Kiss in the Tunnel has a narrative, something which was practically unheard of at the time and this is groundbreaking. The subject is simple enough, but Smith demonstrates some creative ideas that would have been credible even in a film-maker of a later generation. Believe or not, the film was remade later on in the same year! – – – – – Bianca
Darling – John Schlesinger (1965)
Director John Schlesinger was on a roll in the 1960s, and his films played an important part in the gritty, social realism of British cinema at the time. 1965’s Darling was oh so close to winning all five of its Academy Award nominations – in the end nabbing three, Original Screenplay for Frederic Raphael, Costume Design, and of course, the majestic, forever-lovely, Julie Christie winning Best Actress. Leaving Picture and Director awards to go elsewhere. Christie is marvelous in this, seemingly sinking her teeth deeper and deeper, as the film progresses, and her character evolves via various life experiences.
Darling follows the kind of popular lifestyle of young model, Diane (Christie), who has haste and ambition in abundance. But her misplaced attention, and even affections, eventually bring reality crashing down. Exceptional supporting turns, in particular Dirk Bogarde, aid the film’s often lonely tone. As Diane ambles through her young life, landing misleading roles in films, and traveling to France and Italy, before returning to London to hopefully reconcile some stability. The final scene with Christie and Bogarde, as Diane gets a taste of her own emotional medicine, is cruel, but unforgettable. – – – – – Robin
If… – Lindsay Anderson (1968)
If… is a fascinating and powerful film set in an oppressive and archaic public (that’s private to anyone outside the UK) school. It is one of the most original and innovative of all British movies of the 1960s, a decade which began in some ways with Peeping Tom and ended with Performance, two much maligned movies which in hindsight are astonishing achievements. If… is equally as striking (and disturbing) as those other two films, but in contrast actually achieved quite a level of popularity on its original release. Even so I don’t believe the movie gets the attention it deserves.
Hopefully it will be rediscovered by a new generation of movie lovers as it is still very relevant and powerful even now, thirty five years later. Malcolm McDowell (his film debut) stars as the ringleader of a small group of dissatisfied students who don’t fit in with their ultra-conformist contemporaries. His performance is first rate, and in several scenes you can almost see Alex, his droog to be in A Clockwork Orange. The movie mixes documentary like realism with fantasy sequences involving “The Girl” (Christine Noonan), and eventually violent rebellion. A movie very much of its time it still is very watchable today and has lost little of its power and ability to surprise. – – – – – Bianca
Weekend – Andrew Haigh (2011)
When lists are compiled of the greatest pieces of gay cinema, the usual well-known suspects are generally featured. Brokeback Mountain, Philadelphia, Boys Don’t Cry, The Birdcage et al. But one sublime British film often pops up on these rankings you may not be familiar with – Andrew Haigh’s superb Weekend. While its tale of two dashing young men experiencing a weekend fling seems a little light on the surface, there’s deeper meaning to be found here. The notion of someone you only meet for the briefest of times can still genuinely change your life is powerful stuff. Russell (a brilliant Tom Cullen) is deeply guarded, due to his internalised homophobia, but still longs for something more than a one night stand. Glen (Chris New) is the “I don’t do boyfriends” kind of guy with a penchant for asking uncomfortable questions.
As with the best love stories, it’s a pairing that should never work, but somehow does. As Russell begins to let his walls down, a painful revelation will cause the pair to make the most of their unexpected weekend together. It becomes two days that will acutely change both of them. While the drug use and sex scenes may be too much for some, this is an earnest and honest portrayal of 21 st century gay lifestyle. It may be eye-opening to some, but to others, it will feel scarily accurate. Haigh shoots on digital video in an intimate and unassuming style that fits perfectly with this piece. The screenplay is a dream, with the most brilliantly timed conversation pieces. Cullen and New have the most gorgeous chemistry together, which matches anything gay cinema has ever offered up. It’s a triumph you really must seek out. – – – – – Doug
Monsters – Gareth Edwards (2010)
With a background in film visual effects, Gareth Edwards has somewhat sipped under the radar as a filmmaker. Which is pretty bizarre when I tell you the directed the vastly improved Godzilla film in 2014, before being given the reigns with the illustrious Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. What essentially paved the way for a high-end series of directorial work, was his first feature, 2010’s Monsters. Misleadingly quoted on the posters as “action-packed”, the film is actually super-effective and successful because of its slow-burner, ground-level execution. Monsters does not require much “action” to prove its worth.
A kind of sci-fi-apocalyptic hybrid, Monsters takes the creature feature, and makes their presence an ordinary way of life. Not an end of the world film per se, but a world now acclimatizing to the recent arrivals. Edwards, and his tiny crew, craft a film of high impact and investment, with very little sighting of these tentacled things. What is smart, and somewhat innovative, is the relationship between Andrew (Scoot McNairy), a photographer, and Samantha (Whitney Able), his boss’ daughter, whom he is assigned with escorting back to American soil via a monster-infected zone in Mexico. With dialogue largely improvized by the leads, a host of native extras, a three week shoot across five countries, Monsters is a monumental achievement given its extremely limited scale. – – – – – Robin
Cathy Come Home – Ken Loach (1966)
This graphic, sympathetic depiction of a couple who become homeless in 60s Britain is still powerful and moving to watch in 2018. Part of the Wednesday Play, this TV film was first aired by the BBC. Cathy Come Home is plotted like a Greek tragedy – the couple’s decline from prosperity is gradual at first, then accelerates. However, the characters are not the architects of their fate. They make mistakes, but their punishment is out of all proportion. They are the victims of a harsh and unfeeling system – but most of all of the hostile attitudes of their fellow citizens towards the homeless. Most viewers at the time would have shared these prejudices, but the film’s characters are so sympathetic and ordinary, that you can’t help but empathise with them.
The ending is perhaps the most impactful scene, and left me in floods of tears. The film gave a huge impetus to Shelter, the campaign for the homeless that had just started up. Few other campaigns except (later) CND have had such widespread support. Pressure from Shelter eventually led to a change of the law in 1977 which means that homeless families can no longer be treated as the protagonists of the film were. The film was so realistic that Carol White who played Cathy, would be stopped in the street by passers-by who would press money into her hand, unable to believe that she wasn’t actually homeless, showing the impact that film had made on the general public. – – – – – Bianca
The Commitments – Alan Parker (1991)
Roddy Doyle’s 1987 novel was a real hit. Alan Parker, who had already long-since proved his directorial worth with music-themed movies (Fame; Bugsy Malone), insisted the book be a movie he would make. Screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, joined forces with Doyle to adapt the text to the screen. Casting a bunch of young hopefuls with little, or no, acting experience, but rather a skill in playing music, The Commitments proved to be a hit. Over-lapping true working class drama, with relatable, well, working class humor, the film depicts a roots-level Dublin tale of ordinary folk trying to form a band with soul.
Opting to create the band, and eventually manage the misfits, young, ambitious Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins), pops an ad in the local newspaper for music talent. The auditions, crammed into Jimmy’s parents house, see a lot of untalented wannabes swing on by. And the boisterous, mis-matched crew he ends up with, are talented for sure, but collaboration will have its downsides. A great cluster of characters, including a oafish lead singer with a huge voice, a trio of bickering girls backup singers, a supposed veteran of the music scene, a ridiculously aggressive bouncer. The Commitments, the band, may clash behind the scenes, but deliver the goods on stage. And it is in the live sets where the brilliant film hits high notes – cracking songs performed with gritty gusto. – – – – – Robin