British Cinema, Detective, Thriller, True Story

Robbery (1967)

In August, 1963, the British public could talk about only one thing over their bacon, eggs,toast and orange juice. The topic of the day was a robbery, not just any robbery though. Oh no, this robbery was considered to be the robbery to end all robberies.

Early in the morning of the 8th of August, 1963, sixteen men had held up a Royal Mail train on its way down from Glasgow to London. They boarded the train while it was stopped on a bridge, severely injured the trains driver, Jack Mills by hitting him with a metal bar, and made off with all the cash on board. The grand total they got away with? £2.6 million. At the time, this was the largest money robbery in British history.

Several of the gang were eventually caught and a trial was held in 1964. Two of the gang, Ronnie Biggs and Charlie Wilson escaped prison in daring prison breaks, and they and many others lived abroad for decades. The case is well known here in the UK, but if you’re not familiar with it you can find more about the case, trial, and the gang members themselves online.

The robbery and what happened afterwards sounds like it’s a plot straight out of a film. Fact can be stranger than fiction though, and that is certainly true in this case.

It proved too much of an opportunity to pass up on, and so in 1967, production began in the UK on a film based upon the robbery. It was a rather fictionalised account and peoples names were changed etc, and it didn’t end quite how the real life event did.

The film was directed by Peter Yates (who would go on to great fame as the director of Bullitt), and it was produced by Stanley Baker and Michael Deeley. Baker would also star as the leader of the gang aiming to rob the Royal Mail train of its cash. The films electrifying score was by Johnny Keating, and his music adds so much atmosphere to the film.

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Robbery is a tense, gripping and gritty flick. It has you on the edge of your seat throughout and I think it has a very realistic look to it. I also like how the Police are not shown as idiots or the enemy here as is so often the case in films mainly focusing on the criminals. Also we don’t really (well I didn’t anyway)feel like we should be fully on the side of either the cops, or of the criminals, the depiction of what both sides did and went through is well balanced I think.  We can envy at the audacity of the plan, and the fact that it works, but we don’t forget these are criminals, nor that the Police have to (and should) do their job to get them.

The first fifteen minutes are some of the most tense I’ve ever seen in a film. The film opens with four criminals setting up a robbery in broad daylight. They set up a gas canister in the car of a man who has a briefcase handcuffed to him. The gas is set to go off at a certain time, it does so knocking out the driver and the man with the case, and causes the car to crash. Three of the gang in a stolen ambulance take the two men out of the car and drive off. In the ambulance they remove the case and some diamonds.

They abandon the ambulance and get into a getaway vehicle, they are spotted by coppers in a passing car who are on the look out for the stolen ambulance, thus begins one of the best car chases in film history. The Police pursue the robbers car at high speed, as the gang try and evade capture. Filmed out on location in and around London streets, this chase had me on the edge of my seat, peeking through my fingers. In some ways this can easily be seen as the warm up for Yates film Bullitt(which features another brilliant car chase.) The bit where the gang get nearer to a London school crossing is edge of your seat stuff.

The film sees Paul Clifton(Stanley Baker)get a crew together to help him rob a Royal Mail train. Clifton has thought every possibility through, and is leaving nothing to chance. He doesn’t bet on the determined Scotland Yard Detective George Langdon (James Booth). Langdon gets to hear interesting info from some of his informers which alerts him to the fact that a big job is about to go down. Langdon and fellow colleagues set about trying to uncover what the job is, and do their best to capture the criminals.  

Solid performances can be found throughout by some of the best character actors in British film history.

Stanley Baker is excellent as the tough criminal mastermind who you wouldn’t want to mess with. James Booth (Baker’s co-star in the classic war flick Zulu)steals every scene he is in, as the copper determined to get the gang. Barry Foster, Clinton Greyn, Frank Finlay, George Sewell and William Marlowe all impress as members of Clifton’s crew. Joanna Pettet has a small role as Clifton’s stylish wife, she doesn’t get much to do here, but she does make an impression when she is on the screen.

My favourite scenes are the following. The opening car chase. Frank Finlay’s character being rescued from the prison yard. The line up, where the schoolteacher identifies the man who was driving the speeding car. Clifton’s wife asking him why he has a gun. The train robbery sequence. The discussion at the football match. I also really love the opening title sequence, where the names and credits go backwards, giving us the impression that the train is passing them by.

This is a realistic and thrilling crime film inspired by a incredible true story. I’d also like to say that fans of vintage British cars will be in for a real treat, this film is full of old cars that are sure to bring back happy memories for car lovers.

I highly recommend you see this one on Blu-Ray to see it looking at its best. The Network Blu-Ray release also has lots of very good extras to enjoy, including an interesting interview with Stanley Baker.

Any other fans of this film? Please leave your comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

British Cinema, Tributes To Classic Stars

Your Favourite Vivien Leigh Film Performances?

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Vivien has long been a favourite of mine. Much more than simply being enchanting, delicate and beautiful; Vivien could make your heart break for her characters one moment and get you cheering for them in the next. On screen she could be fragile, gentle, strong and fearless, and whatever she appeared in she always stole each and every scene she was in.

Despite her incredible acting talent, Vivien actually only ever starred in 20 films. She also enjoyed huge success in the theatre, and she was one of the most acclaimed actresses of the British theatre. I only wish she had starred in more films.

Which of Vivien’s performances/films are your favourites? I love the following the most.

1- Waterloo Bridge (1940) This tale of love and tragedy is set in London during WW1. Vivien plays a young ballerina who falls in love with a British officer (Robert Taylor), only to descend into heartbreak and poverty when she receives tragic news. There is a twist that will have you sobbing. A beautiful and moving love story. Vivien makes your heart break for this woman, and we are all left wanting the best for her. I like how Vivien makes you feel how torn up is she is in her mind, wrestling with her conscience about the choice she has made.

2- Gone With The Wind (1939) This is the first film of Vivien’s that I ever saw. I have been a fan ever since I first saw her performance here as the defiant Southern belle. As the flirtatious and defiant Scarlett, Vivien is a force to be reckoned with. As she falls in love and lives through the American civil war, Scarlett earns our admiration for her courage and strength in the face of extremely trying times.

3- That Hamilton Woman (1941) Vivien is excellent here, as the real life Emma Hamilton, the outgoing mistress of the heroic Lord Nelson. This film focuses on their famous affair, and it sees Vivien acting alongside her husband Laurence Olivier.  This is one of my favourite romance films and it is one I wish had been longer (although I’m very happy with what we got.)

I think Vivien gave her best performance as the fragile, and quite delusional Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire. I think she truly deserved her Oscar for that one.

I’d love to hear from you. What are your favourite Vivien Leigh films?

British Cinema, True Story

A Night To Remember (1958)

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On this day, in April 1912, the White Star Line passenger ship R.M.S Titanic hit an iceberg in the middle of the North Atlantic. In just a couple of hours this luxurious ship on her maiden voyage had sunk. 1523 passengers and crew perished in the freezing sea that night. There were only 705 survivors.

In the years following this disaster there have been many other shipping disasters, but even now, over 100 years later, the Titanic disaster is still the most famous of them all. Why is that?

I would say it’s due to several things. The ship was on her maiden voyage. The Titanic had been marketed as being unsinkable, and was the biggest and most luxurious ship afloat at the time; this disaster was unthinkable really because of all of that.

So many of the men aboard bravely went to their deaths after giving women their place aboard the lifeboats. There were also several moving stories such as the band playing as the ship sank from under them, trying desperately to calm frightened passengers with music. Mr and Mrs Strauss choosing to die together rather than be parted etc.

There were too few lifeboats aboard to save everyone. The ones that were aboard were not filled to capacity. This is one of the most shocking parts of the whole disaster for me.

Roy Ward Baker’s 1958 film is based on Walter Lord’s non-fiction novel about the sinking. Lord spoke to Titanic survivors at length, and he published their accounts in his 1955 novel A Night To Remember.

For me Baker’s film is the best screen depiction out there about this disaster. It accurately captures the behaviour of people on the night, and details the horrors of the sinking. James Cameron’s 1997 film was pretty accurate in terms of recreating the ships opulent interiors more so than this film, but Baker’s film makes us feel like we are there on that cold April night. It does a great job of capturing how frightening and chaotic the sinking was.

Interestingly the film depicts the ship as going down in one piece. Several witnesses claimed this was what happened. When Robert Ballard found the Titanic wreck in 1985, the ship was on the seabed in two pieces.  We’ll never know for sure if it broke above the surface or when it hit the seabed, we only know that is in two pieces now. For anyone who believes it broke apart above the surface, try and remember that this film was made before the wreck was discovered and was based on witness testimony.

A Night To Remember focuses on the experiences of several passengers and crew. We follow the ship from her launch in Southampton, out to France and Ireland, and then out into the Atlantic on to New York.

The character we follow the most in this is Second Officer Charles Lightoller(Kenneth More). This is one of my favourite films featuring More, and he is excellent as the proud and heroic officer trying to save lives and keep panic from spreading as the boats are lowered. For the first half of the film More is really just in a supporting role, as the film goes on he becomes the main focus.

There is an incredible cast of British talent in this. Standout performances for me are Kenneth More, Michael Goodliffe(as ships builder Thomas Andrews) , Anthony Bushell (as Captain Rostron, the Captain of the rescue ship The Carpathia),Ralph Michael(as Mr. Yates, a gambler) , Kenneth Griffith (as wireless operator John Phillips)and Laurence Naismith(as Captain Smith).

A young David McCallum has a supporting role playing wireless operator Harold Bride. James Bond fans should keep their eyes peeled for Desmond Llewelyn(Q)as a steward in the steerage section.

I think Goodliffe gives the best performance as the devastated Mr. Andrews. In the scene where Andrews calmly awaits his fate, Goodliffe has this haunting look on his face that makes you realise that Andrews has mentally removed himself from the current situation(he is there in body, but in mind he has long gone.)Anyone else catch that he is staring at a painting entitled Approach To The New World? In his situation that title could be seen to refer to the possibility that an afterlife may await him next.  Goodliffe is a much underrated actor, and I think A Night To Remember is his finest screen hour.

Several scenes in this always make me cry every time I watch. The passengers at the stern as the ship sinks who start praying in different languages. The old steward finding the little boy and realising they are most likely going to die(as the ship sinks he hugs the boy and says “we’ll find mummy, we’ll soon find her”). Mr. Andrews persuading the young honeymoon couple to get to a lifeboat or jump overboard. The band playing on as the ship sinks.  Mr. Andrews pleading with a young stewardess to put on a lifejacket. Mrs Strauss refusing to leave her husband and get into a boat.

One of the saddest scenes focuses on a first class couple (Honor Blackman and John Merivale)saying goodbye as she gets into a lifeboat with their children; the father (having had the truth of the situation from Mr. Andrews)knows he is more than likely never going to see his beloved family ever again. I love the look on Merivale’s face as he plays that scene, you know he is scared and brokenhearted.

A powerful depiction of courage and tragedy. This film is my favourite of all the films out there about this disaster, and it has many moments that I have found hard to forget, such as the young couple killed by the falling funnel, Andrews preparing himself to die, Ismay(Frank Lawton) breaking down in the lifeboat after the ship has sunk, the baker getting drunk to try and protect himself from the effects of the cold water, and the passengers at the stern praying and screaming.

My favourite scenes are the following. The steerage passengers playing football with the chunks of ice from the iceberg than landed on deck. Ismay in the dining room demonstrating how steady and secure the ship is, only for a woman to knock the table and shake everything.  Lightoller trying to persuade the gambler to join him on top of the collapsible boat, only for him to swim off. Andrews speech to the young honeymoon couple. Molly Brown(Tucker McGuire) in the lifeboat saying “you get fresh with me son, and I’ll throw you overboard!”. The Titanic leaving Southampton. The passengers praying on the stern. Mr.Yates passing a young woman getting into a lifeboat a letter from him for her to mail to his sister. Murdoch’s(Richard Leech) accusatory look to Ismay when Murdoch sees him sitting in a lifeboat.

An excellent film filled with many excellent performances. I highly recommend seeing the Blu-ray version of this, the picture is so clear that it looks as though it had been made today.

I think it’s a testament to Roy Ward Baker that his film about this disaster is the one that I return to again and again. I do like Cameron’s film, but Baker’s version got me interested in the real disaster itself and his version has a more realistic look to it. I highly recommend seeing both films though.

R.I.P to all the Titanic victims.

Any other fans? If you’ve never seen it I highly recommend it.

 

British Cinema, Second World War

Went The Day Well? (1942)

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Quite simply, this is one of the best films ever made at Ealing Studios. This film was a rare none comic film from a studio best known for its comic output.

For a film from the 40’s, Went The Day Well? contains some extremely graphic and dark scenes. For instance, there’s the scene where a woman hatchets a German soldier to death and in turn she is murdered by his colleague. The scene where the home guard are gunned down on the road. The scene where a woman is slapped for not obeying instructions. There is also the scene where the Vicar is shot to death in his church.

One of the most shocking (and for me most unforgettable)scenes comes near the end of the film. A live grenade is thrown into a room full of children, an older woman grabs it and runs from the room with it, only to be blown up.

The body count in this film is very high. Both British and German characters are killed throughout, leading to the battle for the village in the films final minutes.

The film is based on a story by Graham Greene. The film no doubt served as a reminder to British people at the time to remain vigilant to the possible invasion of the enemy.

Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Went The Day Well? tells the story of a group of German paratroopers who seize control of the British village of Bramley End. Some of the villagers make an heroic stand against the soldiers, and they try and get word to neighbouring communities of the arrival of the Germans.

Unbeknown to the villagers one of their own is a German sleeper agent. Leslie Banks plays the double crossing Oliver Wilsford, happily ending the lives of people he has lived amongst for years.

This film has a cracking cast. Marie Loher is excellent as the heroic Mrs. Fraser.

C.V France is excellent as the steadfast Vicar, willing to risk his own life instead of bowing beneath the jackboot.

Valerie Taylor is Nora, the Vicar’s gentle daughter who will do the unthinkable and resort to violence.

Harry Fowler is George, a young boy who will risk his own life to alert neighbours to the invasion.

A very young Thora Hird is Ivy, happily dispatching Germans off with her shotgun.

Muriel George is Mrs. Collins, the brave postmistress who gives a side order of hatchet with her sausages and mash.

A young David Farrar impresses as an ice cold German casually threatening to kill the village children.

The film interestingly depicts everyone in this community working together for the greater good. Whether they be rich or poor, old or young, male or female; the villagers work as one to defeat the enemy.

I also like how for most of the film it is the women who come up with plans of escape or of warning the outside(the eggs with a message on for example). The film offers some very strong female roles, and shows the women to be just as brave(if not braver)as the men.

One of my favourite war time films, and a film that I consider to be one of the best British films ever made. I also wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this film influenced The Eagle Has Landed.

Highly recommended if you’ve never seen it. If you have, please leave your thoughts below.

 

British Cinema

The Edge Of The World (1937)My first viewing of this early Powell film.

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This is a film I have wanted to see for quite a while. I saw it was available on Blu-ray, so I bought it to add to the ever growing film collection. I’m very glad to have this one.

In the 1930’s, the island of St Kilda(in the Hebrides)was evacuated, this followed years of poor crops, illness and mass emigration by many residents. Generations of a community that had lived away from the mainland of Scotland came to an end. The island is now the property of the National Trust.

British director, Michael Powell heard of this story and was fascinated by it. He was inspired to make a film about island life and to look at the struggle of surviving in harsh weather.

Teaming with American producer Joe Rock, Powell set out to try and get permission to film on St Kilda. Sadly permission was refused, but the islanders of Foula(a small island in the Shetlands)welcomed Powell and his crew with open arms. Many of the islanders appeared in the film and the island itself is still inhabited today.

As an extra on the Blu-ray, there is a documentary from the late 70’s, featuring Powell and lead star, John Laurie returning to Foula and meeting islanders they befriended and their families. I loved watching this and it was a treat to see Foula in colour(the film is in black and white.)

The film opens with Andrew Gray(Niall MacGinnis)taking a young couple(Michael Powell and Powell’s then wife, Frankie)to the now uninhabited island of Hirta. As he takes them ashore we find out he used to live their years ago, and in flashback we see what life was like back then and what led to the island being evacuated.

We see that islanders were torn apart as to whether they should remain despite failing crops and a lot of their young people leaving by choice for the mainland; or whether they should stay on the bit of land they know as home and make a go of it.

Andrew was for staying. His best friend Robbie Manson(Eric Berry)wanted to leave and Andrew’s fiancé(and Robbie’s twin sister) Ruth(Belle Chrystall)wanted to stay.

Personal tragedy makes Andrew change his mind and leave.

This film proves why filming on location can be an asset for a film or series. The photography and locations are beautiful, and the real island makes a real impact, with it’s towering cliffs, coves and windswept hills. The island becomes as much a character in the film as the actors do.

I really enjoyed this one, but I do have a couple of issues with it. Firstly I feel this is far too short, it clocks in at just over 1hr 14mins.

I think we could have done with more character development. I didn’t find myself caring too much about the central trios arguments and damaged relationships, because I hadn’t seen their relationship grow. I think Powell should have filmed some childhood sequences where we see why this trio are so close and then move onto the scenes that begin Andrew’s flashback at the beginning.

I also think that besides John Laurie(superb as the gruff Peter Manson, the leader of those wanting to remain)not many of the cast members get their chance to shine. Peter, Andrew and Ruth are the only characters who get much development and that is a real shame. I would have liked to have seen more of Finlay Currie in particular as Andrew’s dad, James Gray.

Those complaints aside, I really enjoyed this film very much. It’s very moving in places and gives you a good glimpse into an isolated communities way of life. It’s a very good film and being filmed on location adds something extra special to it; you can almost feel the wind blowing your hair and feel the sea spray on your face.

There is a very impressive shot at the beginning, where Andrew literally sees the ghosts of his past walk past him when he arrives on the island. This was very well done and makes quite an impression.

There’s some beautiful music, and an almost documentary look to the film. I was quite impressed with Belle Chrystal, she is an actress who I’ve never heard of before this and I’m going to see if she appeared in anything else.

Well worth a look for fans of Powell. Anyone else seen this?

 

British Cinema, Musicals, Unsung Classics

Unsung Classics 3: It’s Great To Be Young! (1956)

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I wonder how many of you have even heard of this one? I’m betting not very many at all, and that is why I wanted to write about it because it deserves to be better known.

I first saw this on TV many years ago, I missed the first few minutes of it, so I didn’t even know the title of what it was I was watching. I saw that John Mills was in it, and I found myself enjoying the story, so I kept right on watching. Over the years a scene in this stayed with me (the students locking themselves in the music studio refusing to come out)and every now and then I get to thinking about the film. I just wished I knew the film title so I could buy a copy.

It took me some time after this to find a list of John Mills films and read through the plot descriptions, but I kept on going until I discovered it had been called It’s Great To Be Young! A couple of years ago, I was thrilled to see this was available on DVD and I made sure I bought a copy.

This is a film that will bring a smile to your face, and a tear to your eye. Uplifting and touching with some cracking music(courtesy of jazz great, and radio comic genius, Humphrey Lyttelton),this is perfect to watch when you need cheering up.

Beloved music teacher, Mr.Dingle(John Mills)loves music, he loves playing music, teaching music and discussing music. His passion for his subject makes him a big hit with his students. He is easy-going and more of a friend to his pupils than just a teacher. He runs a jazz class for his students which is well received. When the school gets a new headmasterMr. Frome(Cecil Parker), Dingle finds himself being pressured to stop teaching jazz and having to just stick to the regular(boring)curriculum.

The dislike between Dingle and Frome escalates and soon Dingle’s career is on the line. It is up to his students to make a stand for the teacher they love.

John Mills is excellent as the energetic teacher who makes his lessons fun and listens to, and works with his students. Cecil Parker provides solid support as the stuffy headmaster who rigidly imposes his way of teaching on his new colleagues.

The child stars are all superb, with Dorothy Bromiley in particular making a strong impression as Paulette, who is falling in love for the first time in her life. I love the scene between her and John Mills, when Paulette asks him for advice on how to deal with her feelings.

This one makes you think of all those teachers who meant a great deal to you, and had a positive impact on your life. Who wouldn’t want a teacher like Dingle?

The outfits and hairstyles may be outdated now, but the music, and what the characters are going through will never age.

Any other fans of this? To the rest of you, this one comes highly recommended.

 

British Cinema

Scott Of The Antarctic (1948)

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I never get tired of watching this superb film from Ealing Studios. Directed by Charles Frend, the film is all about the ill fated 1912, Terra Nova, British Polar expedition . It is a finely crafted film based on testimony from the expedition survivors, and from the diaries and letters of Scott and his team.

The tragic loss of Scott, Evans, Wilson, Oates and Bowers made these men legends here in Britain; Scott was regarded as a hero and it was only much later that news of several mistakes/perceived bad planning were made public. I have always saw it that they just faced bad luck from the start, and although pretty much well prepared in many things, they were not so in others (pony’s instead of dogs, too few men on the final trek)and they didn’t stand a chance against the weather. The quiet courage with which they faced their deaths is admirable.

Shot in Technicolor by Jack Cardiff, this film is truly gorgeous to look at; as we are shown the beauty, mystery and danger of the South Pole. Featuring real footage from the Arctic and Norway adds a realistic look to the film. The rest of the film was shot in the studio and some very well designed sets really do give the impression the actors are out on location. Vaughn Williams score adds a great deal to the film, it at times sounds like a bitter icy wind, and has an eerie, mysterious sound in places, once heard this score is very hard to forget.

John Mills is at his best as Captain Robert Falcon Scott, fascinated by the Pole and desperate to reach it before the Norwegians. He portrays him as an extremely driven man, loyal to his friends, devoted to his wife, but unable to shake his deep interest for the Arctic.  Mills bears quite a resemblance to the real man which helps greatly.

The rest of the cast are equally superb, and it’s very interesting to spot many actors here who would go on to become stars themselves: Christopher Lee, Kenneth More, James Robertson Justice and John Gregson.

I like Harald Warrender the most as Scott’s close friend Dr. William Wilson, he knows that despite Scott’s promise to him that they are on a purely scientific expedition; his friends real goal is to reach the Pole first, Wilson accepts this as he knows for Scott to be acting otherwise would be against his nature.

Diana Churchill and Anne Firth play the wives of Scott and Wilson. Kathleen Scott feels fear for her husband, but completely understands the passion that drives him; if she begged him not to go she knows that he would be hurt and she would feel guilty for stopping him doing what he wished. I love the scene where she says it’s fine for him to go and he kisses her hand and looks so tenderly at her. Scott is grateful to her, but he also knows how difficult it must be for her inside.

Oriana Wilson on the other hand doesn’t want her husband to go at any cost, she too understand his passion to for the arctic but can’t bear for him to leave. Oriana can’t hide her fears as Kathleen can. I love the scene where Scott asks Wilson to join him and he ask Oriana to give her permission for her husband to go; she does so after much hesitation and Scott looks at her knowing full well her heart has broken. Mills and Firth are both excellent in that subtle, but powerful scene. These scenes make me think how difficult it is for those left at home when a loved one goes off to do something risky.

I consider this to be one of the best films my country has ever made, and it’s one that has become a real favourite.If you’ve never seen it I highly recommend it, make sure to see the restored version on Blu-ray as it looks stunning.  If you’re a fan, then please share your thoughts below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

British Cinema, Romance, Unsung Classics

Unsung Classics 2: The Passionate Friends(1949)

photo0045Continuing on with the unsung series. Today, I’m focusing on this British romantic drama, starring Trevor Howard, Claude Rains and Ann Todd. I find it hard to choose one film as my all time favourite, but if I had to choose just one, I really do think this might be it.

If you think H.G Wells only wrote science fiction,  you really need to think again. In 1913 his novel about adultery, called The Passionate Friends was published. This film written by Eric Ambler and directed by David Lean is based on that novel(I’ve never read the novel, but from the write up I’ve found online, I think I’d be better off sticking with the screen adaptation as the original story doesn’t actually sound like my cup of tea. I may check it out at some point if I ever come across it.)

Mary Justin(Ann Todd)is married to Howard Justin(Claude Rains), a much older man who is very wealthy. At a New Years Eve party Mary runs into her former lover Steven Stratton(Trevor Howard)and discovers that she still has feelings for him. The pair strike up a friendship but neither can deny their romantic attraction. Howard discovers their affair and puts an end to it; or so he thinks, as nine years later in a Swiss hotel, Mary and Steven meet again and once again can’t deny their feelings. Mary has to choose which man she will stay with.

Not only is Mary torn between two different men, but she must choose between two different types of love, the physical and the emotional. Steven is passionate, tender and expressive; whereas Howard is more reserved, gentle, and set in his ways. Both men love her very much, but with which man (type of love) does she find herself happiest?

In many ways this film mirrors Lean’s earlier classic Brief Encounter.You could almost view this film as the sequel to that, with Howard appearing in both(and as a doctor in both), the dull but loving husband, and a woman torn between one life and another.

Ann Todd is superb as the young woman struggling against her own feelings and not really wanting to hurt either of these men, but knowing whichever choice she makes will end up hurting one of them. Todd was married to David Lean and appeared in several of his films, she is an actress who deserved many more film roles. She is a very expressive actress and in this film she doesn’t need words in most scenes as her face tells us all we need to know(particularly during the tube station finale.)

This features my favourite Claude Rains performance, as the man who knows what is going on under his nose, doesn’t like it but no matter what can’t give up the woman he loves. He makes us really feel for Justin and makes him likeable, which makes the situation even more poignant all round. I especially love him in the scene where he confronts Mary and Steven and they realise he knows about them; Claude owns that scene and makes it quite funny.

Howard is very good as the outgoing, earnest younger man desperately trying to start again with the woman he loves. I love him in the scene where Steven and Howard have a confrontation at Howard’s home, and in the scenes in the Switzerland.

There is some gorgeous and interesting photography in this and beautiful scenes of the Swiss lakes and mountains.

The ending isn’t one you forget in a hurry and is very moving.

A film that deserves a great deal more attention. Highly recommended. If you happen to be a fan of this one, please do share your thoughts.

 

British Cinema, Romance

Brief Encounter (1945)

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Undoubtedly this is one of the greatest British classics. Brief Encounter is an intimate romantic drama that has long held a place in my heart. Its story of two married people falling in love, but plagued by feelings of guilt, and having an inner decency which makes them not want to give in to their feelings has been imitated many times since: Falling In Love, The 7.39(TV), and even a remake of Brief Encounter, starring Richard Burton and Sophia Loren. Although enjoyable, none of them will ever come close to this original version in my opinion.

Laura(Celia Johnson)and Alec(Trevor Howard)meet at a railway station, and keep running in to one another. A friendship develops which soon becomes something more. The catch is both are married to someone else, and neither wants to hurt their spouse. Neither can deny their feelings and they will  have to decide whether to begin a relationship or not.

We feel for them both so much, and because they resist their feelings this makes them sympathetic because they can’t deny the attraction, but they will not just go straight ahead and act on it. If they had fell into each others arms and ran off together, I highly doubt this film would have become the classic it is today. I also like how their meetings and growing feelings don’t feel contrived; their meeting feels real and believable.

Brief Encounter is directed by David Lean, and is based on Noel Coward’s stage play, Still Life(which was set entirely in a railway waiting room). Lean wisely expanded the action beyond the train station, giving us glimpses of Laura’s home life with loving, but slightly dull husband (Cyril Raymond), and meetings in town between Alec and Laura.

In many scenes this film could almost be seen as a Silent film, there are many moments where the camera is close in on Celia’s face and we hear her characters thoughts, fantasies, desires in a narration; while all this is going on Celia has to also express what we hear through her expressions, and she does so expertly.

There is also another prominent couple in this film, Albert (Stanley Holloway) and Myrtle(Joyce Carey)the station master and station café manager; they enjoy an open, flirtatious relationship, whilst never seeming to ever become a couple (like Alec and Laura). These scenes also serve as some comic relief in an otherwise serious and emotional story. Margaret Barton is also good as the young café assistant(I believe she is now the only surviving cast member.)

My heart breaks for Alec and Laura every time I watch this; it is obvious that they would be good for one another and they genuinely care for each other. I admire their moral strength though in not giving in to their hearts desire, that only makes me like them and pity them more. Can you imagine how hard it must be to give up what you want most, and just walk away? That takes real strength and determination, not everyone can be so strong in life.

The use of Rachmaninov’s music was an inspired choice, today that music and this film are inseparable in many peoples minds. It fits the film perfectly.

My favourite scenes are the following. Their cinema visits. The scene in the flat. Laura’s fantasy in the train window. The first(and as it turns out) final scene in the café and the “you know what’s happened, don’t you?” scene.

I love this scene for the story and performances, but I also enjoy watching to see a bygone era. This is the England of steam trains and to our modern view some extremely cheap prices for everything, from food to cinema tickets.

A bittersweet love story that stays with you long after the film has finished. I have no doubt that this film will continue to be effective for as long as film survives. I think that is a testament to the abilities of Lean, and all the cast and crew who worked on this.

Please share your thoughts on this timeless love story. Never seen it? Get a copy of this and enjoy this deeply moving film. Be sure to see it on Blu-ray to catch it looking at its best.

British Cinema, Second World War

Millions Like Us (1943)

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This is one of my all time favourite films. This shows us the experiences of British women, during the Second World War. Set in an aircraft factory overseen by Eric Portman’s no nonsense foreman; we share the joys and heartbreak of a small group of women who sign up to do their bit while the men are away.

There’s the romantic Celia(Patricia Roc), pragmatic Gwen(Megs Jenkins) and the haughty and elegant Jennifer(Ann Crawford). Despite the differences in their background, these girls become firm friends as they adjust to their new duties.

Celia finds love with a young RAF officer(a baby faced Gordon Jackson), and Jennifer finds herself falling in love with foreman Charlie(Eric Portman). Some of the funniest and most moving scenes in the film are those featuring these two couples.

This really gives you a sense of what life on the homefront was like, aerial bombardments and people from all walks of life being forced to work and live together.  I greatly admire the indomitable spirit of the characters in this; it’s easy to see why this was a real morale booster upon release.

No doubt this film helped women of the time realise the valuable work they could do if they left the kitchen for a change. The war years were tough but for women they brought freedom and independence, as many worked (apart from domestic tasks)for the first time in their lives, life would never be the same when the men returned.

Great performances from the entire cast. Particular praise must go to Eric Portman(one of my favourite actors, someone who should be much better known today)and Ann Crawford(Ann tragically passed away in 1956, aged just 35.)

A little gem that deserves to be better known. I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it.