Sunday Watch: Life of a Mountain – Helvellyn


At the time, it seemed propitious. I was in the Lake District yesterday, for the first time in almost two years. I’ve been waiting for the third part of Terry Abrahams’ ‘Life of a Mountain’ series, this time on Lakeland’s third highest and most popular fell, Helvellyn for ages. I knew it was done, I knew it had been put off premiering due to the COVID situation. I didn’t know that BBC4 had broadcast its traditional precised to one hour version as far back as January. I just saw it in a shop window and the lady behind the heavily protected till said it had not long since come out. Perfect for a Sunday morning.

But it was so utterly disappointing.

The full version is a sprawling two hours twenty-nine minutes long, an open invitation to call it bloated and an unavoidable one. Helvellyn sprawls, and yet insofar as its portrait of a year in the life of the mountain is concerned, it’s paradoxically extrememely limited. This is an entirely Patterdale-Ullswater biased portrait, without even the shadow of a pretence that the mountain has a western flank, that it towers about Thirlmere and can be ascended from that side.

Instead, every facet of the film, every view of Helvellyn we see, whether this be from the constantly low-motion aerial shots to those from the lake steamer, are of the mountain between Striding Edge and Swirral Edge, or they’te of Red Tarn between these two arms. Over and over again.

But then again such a small part of the film is about Helvellyn itself. This is a primarily polemic film, proclaiming the importance of conservation at every turn. It’s about things like the hill-farmers, the men on the steamers, poets, singers, one self-consciously eccentric writer is ridiculous clothing over-developing his every sentence. With very few exceptions, everyone talks modern day jargon, or bullshit. Environmentalists aren’t improving the landscape in any of the myriad ways they do, they’re upgrading it, the way I upgrade my customer’s ‘experience’ by selling them another package. Conservation, preservation, adaptation in a way in keeping with the natural life of the Lake District fells is very important but linguistically the battle is over and we lost.

Everybody’s out to push a viewpoint, but nobody had anything interesting to say about it. Those that are interested in their own personal fascinations cannot describe it as anything but a personal challenge that has emhanced their lives, which I’m sure it is and has. My own life, my walks in the hills, could be expressed in exactly the same fashion, but I hope that I have never sounded so pretentious when talking about them.

And endlessly we get another shot of Helvellyn’s face, between Striding Edge and Swirral Edge. Or a rolling vista of ridges. The film plods on. It’s about living and working around a particular mountain but it spends most of its time in the valleys. It’s generically about life in the Lakes without any sense that any part of it is specific to Helvellyn, is especially shaped by it. People love Helvellyn, love Patterdale, but they say why. It’s ‘special’ or ‘pretty’ or ‘brilliant’. The crap they spout has robbed them of the ability to actually express themselves.

And whereas Abrahams’ first venture, Scafell Pike, was comprehensive, and briliant, and focussed and properly obsessive, Helvellyn is far m,ore professional and has lost all ability to focus or to engage itself realistically with what Helvellyn is as a mountain, as a destination. The nadir comes in a section on the Ski Club, and their base on Raise, when we get the utterly sterile cliche of the skier sliding to a halt in front of the camera and sending a spray of snow over it.

Which is not to say the film doesn’t have its merit. Some, but not enough, people talk with quiet authority and eloquent simplicity about their specialised subject, feeling no need to over sell it, and there was one poignant sequence with a woman who described her spine as having collapsed five years ago, an active fellwalker who thought all of that lost, for good but who, in a top of the range electric wheelchair, with her husband alongside her, with her walking boots on despite the fact they were never going to touch the ground, had gotten as high on Helvellyn as she physically could. Her eyes said it all, the wonderment, the recognition of things she thought gone for good, the wonderful acceptance of being still able to be who she had been.

And her husband, talking into the camera, explaining that this was five years to the day since the operation, that very serious operation that his wife might well never have survived. The little brush away of something near the corner of his eye, the laconic ‘the longest day of my life’ in the tones that only one who has been through such a day and seen it come out can speak. The camera dropping behind as the pair stood overlooking a view, their arms around each other, her shoulders shaking and him gripping her like he still can’t entirely believe that he still gets to.

Too little, not enough. In the end, the intrusive music, the high-speed photopgraphy of coils boiling across the sky or sweeping up and down valleys, the early hours of indistinguishability from tides rolling in and out, became tedious, were padding. There wasn’t even enough of the fells for me to simply gape at in silent admiration, nothing onto which I could project my own memories of climbing Helvellyn.

Terry Abrahams is a very talented man and I envy him his skills. He’s gone from a life in the throws of despair and destruction to intetnationl recognition doimg something I would love to have been capable of myself. But he’s over-reached himself here, tried to make a statement a big statement and he’s blown it, big-time.

Sunday Watch: The Class of ’92


United

I think it’s safe to say that this is more one for me than most of you. The Class of ’92 is a 2013 documentary focussing on the remarkable – oh, soddit, let’s not go all profesional and neutral here, let’s say incredible – sextet of youth team players who almost simultaneously became first team players for Manchester United in the years 1995/6 and who were the heart of the team that won the unique Treble of League, Cup and Champions League in the same season in 1999. This is another of those DVDs that I bought quite some time ago but which I’ve never found the right time to watch. It’s the extended edition too, running nearly two hours instead of the original ninety minutes, with no inkling whatsoever where the additional material has been interpolated.

It’s about, in alphabetical order, David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and, my favoiurite player of all time, the Giger Genius, Paul Scholes. It’s about what made them stand out amongst a generation of young footballers that included players as good as and better than them, but who lacked the drive, the determination, the internal discipline to be footballers, to play for the club they all grew up supporting, and for their country. It’s about the common, utterly working class backgrounds of each boy, the East Londoner Beckham a product of Leytonstone and Chingford but no different in his formation from the five Mancunians, who came from working class districts in Manchester: Salford, Bury, Middleton and Gorton.

It’s about their experiences in breaking through and the wonderful, natural, cohesive respect, affection and admiration each of the six has for the others, both their abilities and their personalities. Gary and Phil Neville are brothers, but all six are ‘brothers’ to one another. It’s about male bonding, in a shared, mutually desired enterprise, an easy, non-toxic appreciation for one another.

And it’s about the years they shared together in the red and white of Manchester United, their parts in the Double Double on 1996 and the film is structured around the Treble year of 1999 – Ryan Giggs’ incredible goal in the semi-final replay against Arsenal that took ten seconds to make him immortal, Gary Neville’s ‘left-foot-hoick’ that set up the goal that won the League, Paul Scholes’ pass and goal that won the FA Cup, and finally David Beckham’s two corners that won the Champions League in Barcelona, my first visit to a foreign country and my last as an active United fan going to games (how could it get any better?).

It’s about United’s part in the changing times, the culture of the Nineties, the shift of emphasis from Liverpool to our city, not just in football but in our musical culture – Madchester, the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, Oasis – the overthrow of the dead hand of Tory Government, the Manchester Bomb and the beginnings of a wholesale regeneration of Manchester, all by our own hand, without the aid of Tory Government, indeed, one suspects, against its wishes.

And it’s about me, though I appear nowhere in the story, except in those big three games at the end of the 1999 season, one in the mass of United fans at, successively, Old Trafford, Wembley and the Nou Camp, but it’s about the time when I was an Old Trafford faithful, a True Red. It’s about seeing all of these six players making their home debuts and watching them turn into a phenomenon, a phenomenon that Gary Neville, sadly, can never happen again. Six working class kids, products of tough areas, brought up by tough but fair parents to understand hardship, coming together at the club all support and dream of playing for, and coming through together. I think he’s right, and if he is we’ve lost something we could do with.

The story is a mass of memory. Choosing it to watch today was, largely subconsciously, a badly-needed corrective to the events of the last seven days. A week ago, the news broke of the proposed and utterly despicable European Super League, with Manchester United one of the leading lights. It collapsed with almost comic speed, though punishment has yet to be visited on the participants, and that should be strong punishment, a righteous kicking. My relationship with the club I’ve supported for 42 years is now fractured, though my instant reaction to the news was that it was broken, completely. Where it goes from here, nobody yet knows, because you can bet your bottom dollar the bastards haven’t given up for one second.

But I needed to be reminded, and on a visceral level, of just what United in the Nineties were and meant, and not just to me only. The Champions League Final is one of the three most intense events of my life (the top two are more personal). The Class of ’92 contains all those memories but, in its intimate and honest discussions among the players brought it back to me at the same level of my near-simultaneous enthusiasm with Droylsden, where the football wasn’t in the same elevated plane, but you could sit and talk with the players in the bar afterwards, and travel to away matches on the team coach, and everyone was much closer for it.

As Steely Dan once put it, those days are gone forever, over a long time ago. Woe, yeah.

Film 2021: Gladiatress


Just because I ran through all my Film DVDs last year doesn’t mean that I shalln’t be buying any others ever, so there will be Films on Sunday mornings, just on an ad hoc basis.

Gladiatress, an unsuccessful 2004 film that obviously sought to capitalise on the successful comedic relationship between Fiona Allen, Doon McKichan and Sally Phillips, appears as part of a continuum with the last two weeks viewing: VictoriaWood to Smack the Pony to a feature-length film, a year after the series ended. It didn’t work. It made so slight a splash that, as someone who loved Smack the Pony, I never even heard of it until I went searching for last week’s video. The poor reviews nearly put me off but a copy for 99p plus minimal postage tipped the balance. All I can say is that, except in one shallow aspect, it wasnt worth the money.

There’s an element of Monty Python and the Holy Grail to this film, in that it’s set in 55BC and isn’t afraid to slap itself all over with mud and mess. On the other hand, it differs in having a cohesive storyline, thus limiting its absurdity to the actions and dialogue of its three stars.

It’s 55BC and Julius Caesar has just conquered Gaul. Noticing Britain twenty miles across the water, and getting excited about hearing that over here the women fight as well, he takes his fleet over to conquer it, but is repelled mainly because he can’t find a decent harbour. by then,he’s captured Dwyfuc (McKichan), a British Princess, a highly-trained warrior and one who’s mainly got her mind on husband trials: she wants a baby.

Someody’s got to rescue her and the unlikely candidate is her youngest sister, Worthaboutapig (Phillips). Pig, as we’ll call her for ease of typing, is the runt of the litter. She’s the unlucky one, the one no-one ever listens to, scorned and discarded by all, and has uninteresting breasts according to the French prisoner who’s swum the Channel to warn the Gauls that Caesar is coming, and with whom she finally gets lucky, losing her gooseberry.

Pig is, obviously, pretty bloody useless at everything (though she can hypnotise bees) and in order to succeed, her protective goddess, Andrasta (Sandra Reinton), sends her to get the assistance of the middle sister, Smirgut the Fierce (Allen), despite the fact the two elder sisters hate each other. Together, they set off to rescue Dwyfuc, who has learned that slavery can involve luxury, superb food and drink, pretty dresses, endless baths and great sex with soldiers with a hot ass, and has no wish to be rescued at all.

So that’s your spine, your washing line onto which the film can hang its bits of comedic business. It’s silliness. All’s well that ends well, despite Pig getting her head cut off in the arena and Dwyfuc and Smirgut, courtesy of Andrasta, having to kidnap her back out of the Other World. Smirgut is reunited with her Mummy, Dwyfuc gets her Roman soldier as a slave, to give sperm and a baby, and Pig goes back to her Gaul, who still can’t understand a word of English, but she came back from her Other World with more interesting – i.e., bigger – boobs.

So why isn’t it funny?

To me, it’s obvious. The ladies aren’t in charge. The script is written by Nick Whitby, and not by any of Allen, McKichan and Phillips. Whitby had actually supplied ‘additional material’ to four episodes of Smack the Pony’s second series but in this evidence he’s not up to writing a full-length film. At best, the film offers a weak pastiche of Smack the Pony‘s style, but it also handcuffs its hands behind its back by linking everything to one story. The TV series was fast, it was inventive, it was brief. Sketches got out of the way of each other, leaving you vulnerable to what was coming next. What comes next in Gladiatress is the inertia of the same story.

It’s like the sitcom-into-films period of British films in the Seventies, almost all of which failed because the writers were practiced at delivering thirty minute stories and badly out of their depth and timing when given ninety minutes to fill. Something far stronger was needed to make the best use out of Mesdames Allen, McKichan and Phillips, and they should have had considerable input into the writing, which on this evidence they didn’t.

On the other hand, I have to admit that anything which gives me the chance to look at Sally Phillips for ninety minutes on a Sunday morning is worth 99p (plus minimal postage) of anyone’s time. Heck, I’d even have gone to £1.04…

Film 2020 Revisited: Chroniques Sexuelles D’Une Famille D’Aujourd’hui


A couple of months ago, I used the last of my Sunday morning film-watching slots on Sexual Chronicles of a French Family, a serious 2012 film taking a philosopical look at the sexual mores and practices of a contemporary French family stretching over three generations. At least that was what it was supposed to be, but the film does not have a high reputation, nor did I think much of it myself.

The film was supposed to be one of the most explicit films ever released outside hardcore porn, but it was soon clear that, despite its billing, I had hold of the North American version, with English subtitles, and heavily bowdlerised.

Curiosity will out, however, and I wondered what difference the uncut version made to the story or the experience. I wasn’t interested in buying another DVD, even if I could guarantee getting the original (I wasn’t that curious), but things can be found online if you know where to look and I have now added to the sum total of my human knowledge by watching the French version.

As far as I can tell, the film, in the sense of its minimal story, isn’t changed in any real way. This version was some six minutes longer, the extra made up mostly of two troilism scenes, more implied than depicted in the overseas version. The rest o the scenes are shot more explicitly: no shaded angles to obscure things like penises and vaginas, oral sex and penetration.

First time round, I joked that you could tell the film intended to be serious by what it didn’t show, namely nothing full-frontal, so the first and most obvious change was that penises were in with a vengeance: in hand, in mouth, in vagina. Every bloke in the film gets his out, soft or erect, and often more than once. And the sex is unsimulated.

Does this improve the film in any way? The standard defensive answer would be to say that it makes it more authentic, because nobody’s simulating. The film automatically becomes more open and honest. That’s if you’re then prepared to categorise a hardcore porn film as open and honest. As far as I was concerned, the explicit scenes served only to point up what they always point up, the pretension of the film’s ‘philosophy’.

Without sub-titles, I could not parse what was being said, which made ot much harder to follow the film except in its general course. I was glad I had seen an ‘English’ version first as it would have been very hard to pick up the drift if I had been coming to it new. Then again, I don’t remember much in the dialoguer that I would describe as invaluable: true, Romain didn’t come over as quite so much a whiner when you didn’t know what he was saying so there was at least one step up.

Nor, on the purely prurient level, was it any hardship to see even more of Valeria Maes or Adeline Rebeillard. But the explicit version only serves to satisfy curiosity and, once seen, can be left to be covered with dead leaves in the memory.

Film 2020: Sexual Chronicles of a French Family


It’s alright, I expect many of you to have raised your eyebrows at the title of this week’s film. And I expect many of you to be wondering why I’ve chosen this film, and on the level of curiosity, you might well be right. But Sexual Chronicles of a French Family (whose original title translates literally as ‘Sexual Chronicles of a Family Today’) was at least intended to be a serious film, and not just a sex romp.

Whilst watching, I was planning a line to say that you can tell that the film is meant to be serious by what it doesn’t show: breasts, yes, bums, yes, anything frontal, haddaway and get to the Internet, man. But that was before I read that the French original does include scenes of nudity and explicit sex, for which porn actresses were hired to relieve the actual stars, which would justify the box’s warnings that the film ‘Contains Strong Sex’. The north American version cuts it out and that’s clearly the print I’ve watched today: no wonder the film’s a relatively brief 75 minutes, including lengthy credits.

The story is introduced by Romain (Mathias Melloul), newly turned eighteen and miserable and whiney about not having had sex when the national average is below that (and, I was surprised to learn, the age of consent in France is 15). It’s as instantly difficult to sympathise with Romain as it is easy to understand why he’s a sexual reject at such an advanced age.

Romain’s mood is not helped by the belief that everyone around him is having it off interminably. Everyone around him consists of his parents, Herve (Stephen Hersoen) and Claire (Valeries Maes), his older brother Pierre (Nathan Duval) and his older adopted sister Marie (Leila Denio, an actual porn actress), all of whom are, indeed, having fulfilling sex lives, as we will, during the course of the film, observe. The only one Romain excludes from this file (Claire is an assistant at a law firm, used to putting matters into files, so this becomes a running gag, gag here being a word meaning that you wish someone would in relation to Romain) is Granpa Michel (Yan Brian), Herve’s widowed father, and even he;s scoring twice a month.

So, we’re put off by Romain, who is in all respects a wanker, a literal one too. That’s how things start, when he’s caught masturbating in biology class, and filming it on his mobile phone. Romain is suspended from school but gets to go back sooner than expected when it transpires that it’s a dare: everyone, boy and girl, is expected to do this and film it and send it to Coralie (Adeline Rebeillard) to be rated.

Before this happens, Claire is summoned to school. Romain’s misdemeanour becomes the stone thrown into a pool, the ripples of which are the story. Instead of dragging him home by the ear and sticking her youngest son under a cold shower for 24 hours, Claire is a liberally minded mother with an open, honest and non-prurient belief that everyone is entitled to a happy and fulfilling sex-life, as of right (newsflash: no-one gets a sex-life as of right without paying for it: as always, it takes two to make a choice of each other).

So, since no-one ever talks about sex, Claire decides to talk about sex.

Her first port of call is Michel. It’s five years since Mireille passed (this is definitely North American sub-titling) and she was the love of his life but he still needs sex, so every fortnight he visits Nathalie (Laetitia Favart), a local prostitute. It’s ideal: he doesn’t need to chitchat (as we will see when Granpa’s turn comes round and neither of them says a word to each other in an almost comic fashion).

Pierre makes it plain to his mother that he is happy with his sex-life, and that’s all she’s going to get out of him, but we know he’s into bisexual threesomes. Maria doesn’t get asked anything but we see her at it in several instances. As for Claire and Herve, the one thing I will praise the film for is that when it shows an intense scene between them, immediately followed by Maria and her bartender boyfriend, without a word being said the two scenes convey the difference between a longstanding, loving relationship lit by all the experiences of two people together, when sex is making love, and an enthusiastic shag.

Ultimately, Romain breaks his duck with the gorgeous and unconventional Coralie (her bag is filming things). This is achieved by the pair openly walking out of Michel’s birthday party to go to Romain’s room with the uimplied approval of everyone. This is the longest scene of all, mainly because it’s meant to depict Romain’s inexperience and uncertainty, and contrast it with her self-confidence, but the scene has the misfortune to come at that exact point in the ‘story’ where all this softest-core stuff is starting to get boring, besides, beautiful as Adeline Rebeillard is, I still prefer Valerie Maes.

So, will entering into sexual maturity transform Romain? You must be joking: apart from the fact he smiles now, he’s still the same little shit he’s been all along. The film jumps a year at this point. Earlier, Michel had welcomes his daughter-in-law’s enquiries about his sex-life because he was embarrassed about the possibility of conking out on the job with Nathalie and is happy now she’s prepared for the possibility.

And guess what? It’s Michel’s funeral party, family, bedfellows and Nathalie only, absorbed into the family, welcomed open-armed by Claire, and proving to be a nice, happy lady, who just likes sex (Claire approves enthusiastically).

As for Romain, it’s off to the bedroom with Coralie and her camera for some unedifying chat meant to typify teenagers d’aujordhui, though for their sakes I hope it doesn’t. And we finish on some risible guff from the little shit about Coralie not being The One (ah, romance!) but always being The First One, which, short of any major temporal displacement, is an unarguable but decidedly trite fact.

The truth is, I cannot remember what brought the film to my attention and what made me think it would be worth a Sunday morning lie-in. It’s a loose assemblage of encounters that, in its uncut original, is apparently the most explicit film ever released outside form, but even with all that stuff restored would not disguise the fact that it has no real point of view, no actual story and, as a psychological portrait of any of its cast, it’s a load of bollocks. Neither Maes nor Rebeillard can raise the film’s head above water.

Which is a shame. What began with a French film on a January Sunday morning nearly three years ago ends with a French film. There are none left, neither on DVD or download. There are, of course, films out there but none I can think of that I want to watch and blog.

So I want to thank the audience that’s checked in to this ritual. I’ve enjoyed the routine of starting the day with a film and will definitely miss it but I always knew that one day I’d reach the finish and have to find something else to do. Thank you for listening, one and all.

Film 2020: Yesterday


Firstly, I would like to make it known that I would not have gone anywhere near this film if I had realised that Richard Curtis had anything to do with it. Secondly, for this and next weekend I am watching films downloaded rather than purchased on DVD as this long run of Sunday morning cinema is almost over and I am going to have to think of something else to do very shortly. And thirdly, I only downloaded the film on the advice of a work colleague, who praised it as very funny in that other world before the pandemic, and who I haven’t seen in over seven months.

That said, let me deal with the film. It’s premise is simple: what if, one day, a struggling musician woke up to discover he was (practically) the only person in the world who remembered The Beatles? The idea originated with a writer named Jack Barth, who developed a screenplay based around the notion – indisputable – that ideas come from their own place and, most crucially, time. His struggling musician pretends the songs are his. This is one of the greatest pantheons of music ever recorded, the most widely influential pop music whose DNA is woven indelibly into the sounds that surround us.

And they flop.

Richard Curtis bought the rights and, in a completely uncharacteristic move, turned the story into a romantic comedy. Himesh Patel plays Jack Malik, who’s quit his job as a teacher to build a music career. He has a small but devoted following, of about 6 people, all, like him, from that rock’n’roll hotbed, Lowestoft in Suffolk.

First, literally, and foremost among them is his manager/roadie/driver Ellie Appleton (Lily James, playing ‘Elle’ as a slightly restrained manic pixie dream girl, and who I should emphasise immediately is a delight throughout). Obviously, to everyone except Jack, Ellie has been in love with him since time immemorial, and there is a poignantly painful scene where she asks him how she got into the wrong column? Into the Friend column, not the ‘And I Love Her’ column. Public demand keeps Jack from answering a question he has never expected to hear.

Jack’s getting nowhere. It’s not that he’s bad, he’s just… undistinguished. Then, one night, cycling home having sworn off his failed musical career, there is a 12 second global blackout, at the end of which he is hit by a bus. Once recovered, he is given a new guitar by Ellie. His friends ask him to play it, so he plays ‘Yesterday’. They think it’s beautiful. They’ve never heard it before.

At first, Jack doesn’t believe them. We have to go through an unfunny this-is-all-a-complex-practical-joke-on-me sequence before Jack realises, thanks to the Internet, that this is now a world in which The Beatles never existed, that John and Paul and George and Ringo are unknowns, and that Oasis don’t exist (obvious but only marginally funny joke, easily of Curtis’s standards).

And for some reason that has no bearing on the story, Cocal Cola and the Harry Potter books don’t exist either.

How has this happened? Why has it happened? Barth’s original screenplay was entirely about this but Curtis couldn’t give a toss. There is no explanation, which some will say is sensible, not clogging up the story with unnecessary implausibility (because, let’s face it, whatever explanation there might be will be completely implausible in a supposedly grounded, realistic film), and some will say renders the whole film a total nonsense. I’m one of them.

The premise isn’t a premise. It’s a gimmick. After some early and token demonstrations of Jack being a flop even with the greatest songs of all time, he becomes a rising star of unearthly magnitude when Ed Sheeran (playing himself with a great deal of charitable humility) sees him on local TV, invites him to open for him on tour in Moscow, and hooks him up with Ed’s manager, Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon, playing a ruthless role that’s supposed to be funny, a satire on the modern music business, but which doesn’t raise any laughs because Debra acts like we expect the music business to operate anyway: you cannot satirise the exceedingly ludicrous).

So Jack, busy recalling every Beatles song he can – he’s struggling with ‘Eleanor Rigby’ – is being shaped in LA to be the biggest star the world has ever known. Ellie’s still teaching in Lowestoft and all he has to connect him to normality is his buddy Rocky (Joel Fry, played as an inoffensive but useless stoner stumbler, nothing like a cliche at all, no, really).

He visits Liverpool for inspiration. Ellie joins him for a brilliant evening that almost ends in bed, but she can’t do it. She doesn’t want a one-night stand with Jack. And his inability to choose between her and stardom is the end. He’s had half her lifetime to make a move and she’s waited, and now she needs to find a life.

Frankly, I want to pass over the next sequence. It’s unimportant to any point the story has to make, a sideshow to the romance bit. It’s taken as a given that Jack’s songs are the greatest thing since bread came sliced, that they will dominate the music scene of 2019, that they will blow Ed Sheeran away as a nobody (I told you his performance was generous), and they will change the face of music forever. There’s not a second of thought given to the fact that these songs range between 50 and 60 years old, that ‘I wanna hold your hand’ is being presented in 2019, that this music is being released into a music scene that is identical to 2019, which has long since been influenced by the very music that’s supposedly being heard for the first time ever.

Some have accused Yesterday of under-developing its premise. That would be to imply that it develops it at all.

The closest we get is Jack getting incresingly disturbed by the insanity of what he is being put through, and disturbed at the praise he’s getting for somehing he had no part in creating, that he has stolen wholesale.

Along the way, there have been hints that some other people remember. There are two, Leo, a Russian (Justin Edwards) and Liz, a Liverpudlian (Sarah Lancaster). They remember The Beatles, heaven knows why. And they’re not here to challenge Jack, but to thank him. Thank him for the chance to hear the music again, to give it life once more after it’s been torn out of history. Liz – not a stereotypical Liverpool name, no, not at all – spoils the scene by saying she thinks a world with the Beatles’ music is inferior (oh, FFS, Curtis!). She hands Jack a piece of paper.

And the film throws a sucker gut-punch at you that’s totally alien to everything that has gone on. Because the paper has an address on, a lonely, isolated cottage by the sea, the home of a man who’s had a long and contented life, living simply with the woman he loves, a man who paints. An uncredited Robery Carlyle plays John Lennon, and those of us old bastards, who sat at their breakfast tables that December of 1981, and heard the news, get a punch to the heart. John Lennon, alive, 78 years old. Oh God, to see him again, for it not to have happened. These are things that only happen on parallel worlds. is that it? Is that what happened? Curtis doesn’t care.

It’s a kicker that came at a time in the film when I was, not so much bored as wondering what the point of it was.

So Lennon is the catalyst. Jack blags a favour off Ed, interrupts his show at the new Wembley Stadium, gets Ellie backstage and on the screen, to confess his theft, his creative absence, to her and everyone at once, as Rocky uploads the entire songbook to the Internet, for free.

Oh, and he tells Ellie that he loves her, and they run off, back to Lowestoft, to the inevitable ripping-each-others-clothes-off-on-the-way-to-the-bedroom scene, followed by a montage that includes marriage, children and Jack as a music teacher getting an assembley of kids to sing ‘Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da’ but not the line about Desmond doing his pretty face.

So. But for the bit with Lennon, which made me cry again, dammit, and Lily James’ actually quite delightful perfomance, the film was a nothing, an intriguing idea given a teaspoonful’s worth of thought, having a mountain irrelevance erected on top of it. It’s a ‘juke-box’ movie too, one of those excuses for all the great hits to be layed to an unconvincing story-line. And whilst I enjoyed the songs, firstly they were just thrown at us like a wodge, with ‘Let it Be’ and ‘Yesterday’ and ‘I saw her standing there’ and ‘The Long and Winding Way’ turfed out as one, as if the Beatles’ career wasn’t one of musical development and expansion, and secondly, with all due respect to Himesh Patel, I would rather have heard them from the Beatles, ok, right? Fab.

Film 2020: Green for Danger


A late addition to the dog days of this series, Green for Danger was added after I watched School for Scoundrels only two weeks ago. I was reinded of its virtues by watching Alistair Sim, whose first film appearance this was, as Inspector Cockrill.

I have a very old memory of watching part of this film when I was young, young enough to have been sent to bed before its ending, enough to have been very frightened and spooked by the film without thoroughly experiencing the comic aspect that Sim embodied. And whilst laughing at it today, I was also well aware that Sim’s humour, and its underlying sinister side, would have been as far over my little head as the moons of Jupiter.

Green for Danger appeared in late 1946 and was one of Britain’s most popular films the following year. It was adapted from the 1944 novel of the same name by crime-fiction writer Christianna Brand, a prolific writer, and was the second of seven novels to feature Cockrill. It’s set in 1944, in a rural hospital in south east England, in the time of the V1 rockets, the doodlebugs. It’s about a murder.

The film sets things up by having a voiceover from Sim, dictating a letter to his superiors about this case. This serves to introduce a central group of six hospital members, seen around an operating table, figures in white with tight-fitting hoods revealing only their eyes. The voiceover is an old technique that works wonderfully through Sim’s delivery, slightly pompous, slightly facetious and foreshadowing the fact that before the case ends, two of these six people will be dead.

Things begin with local postman Joseph Higgins (Moore Marriot) delivering letters to Heron’s Park Hospital, an old estate converted for wartime use. Higgins is also the local ARP chief (Air Raid Protection). Their HQ is hit by a doodlebug whilst they are listening to a Lord Haw-Haw type broadcast by a slightly-accented woman’s voice and he suffers a broken leg and shock.

For much of the night he is treated by Nurse Esther Sanson (Rosamund Genn) who is still deeply stressed from the death of her mother in an air raid three months ago. The operation is to be perfprmed by Surgeon Mark Eden (Leo Genn), a womaniser with his eye on Nurse Freddi Linley (Sally Gray), whose engagement to anaesthetist Dr Barney Barnes (Trevor Howard) is not going well. Also in the theatre are Sister Marion Bates (Judy Campbell), an old flame of Eden who is still in love with him and Nurse ‘Woody’ Wood (Megs Jenkins).

Before the operation we are allowed to see that there are undercurrents to life at Heron’s Park, and these continue after Higgins dies on the operating table. We see enough hints, hints we recognise as clues but clues without, yet, meaning. They are clues, however, because Higgins’ death is not natural causes: the operation never begins because the postman dies under the anaesthetic, failing to respond to pure oxygen.

The death is a scandal and Hospital Superintendent Dr White (Ronald Adam) looks like wanting Barnes as a scapegoat. Four years earlier, a young girl died under anaesthetic administered by him. He was exonerated, but there was an anonymous letter…

The film, being made for an audience with longer attention spans than the present day, takes an inordinate length of time to reach its point, spilling out clues in a nicely natural way. It’s the old ‘as you know’ thing turned on its head: these people, this sextet, know the things that have happened before. They don’t recite them for the audience, they refer to them as you and I and him would refer to things we all recall. The clues pile up, step by step, and we sift them in anticipation: what will indicate a motive, the motive, the one that lead to a murder?

Sister Barnes knows. She’s seen, and preserved, the clue that explains not just how Higgins was kiled, but who. Unbalanced by her jealousy of Eden, making up to Freddi, she hysterically interrupts the Hospital dance to announce this to everyone, and then runs off. She has the secret, hidden where only she knows.

And she runs off throught the gardens, at night, with moonlight and winds and both Eden and Barnes about, to the cold, deserted, spooky Operating Theatre, and this is where I as young am sitting, trembling at what might happen, and then there’s another presence, a figure in white surgical gear and mask. And Sister Marion Bates screams. And this is where my instinctive memory of the film is locked in forever. I was too young then.

The film was at its most effective here, letting our imaginations in to terrify us more than any depiction could. Sister Bates is killed, stabbed twice, the first through the heart, with a surgical knife. It’s now 35 minutes into a 96 minute film. Now is the point. Enter Scotland Yard. Enter Inspector Cockrill. Enter Alistair Sim.

Sim transforms the film. Without ever letting go of the fact that it is a murder mystery and that we have been told that one more of these five survivors is going to die, Sim brings a subtly comic aspect to his performance. I vividly remember, that first time, my Dad brightening up at Sim’s arrival and ready for fun.

And Cockrill provides it, his gentle eccentricities of approach to the suspects, the glint of amusement in his eyes, his switching back and forth from suspect to suspect, never letting anyone settle, pulling threads that lead towards a solution.

Another attempt is made on another life, the lovely Freddi (Sally Gray was a very attractive woman). Asleep after night shift in the nurse’s home where the gas has run out abnd no-one has had a shilling for the meter, she is set up to die when Woods pops in a bob and the unlit gas fire in Freddi’s room starts pumping gas.

She is only saved when Nurse Sanson arrives and discovers her, smashing a window and calling for help, dragging Freddi out but dropping her head first down the stairs. A fractured skull is the outcome, Inspector Cockrill says to his four remaining suspects, an emergency operation at which all will attend and perform as they did with Higgins. The murderer will try again.

Except that Freddi is alive and well and has agreed to risk herself in an effort to bring the murderer out into the open.

All present, all masked, everything duplicated very carefully. Down to Freddi’s unexpected collapse, her laboured breathing, the approach of death, and a smear on Nurse Woods’ gown that gives Cockrill the final clue. Green stands for danger. The cylinders used by Barnes are colour-coded. Black for Nitrous Oxide, black and white for Oxygen, green for carbon dioxide. Unless a green cylinder has been repainted black and white…

A switch to the reserve oxygen saves Freddi. Who has repainted the CO2 cylinder? The clues point to Mark Eden, who is quietly preparing a hypodermic. Did he kill Higgins? He must have. But he didn’t.

Cockrill turns on Esther Sanson. Nurse Sanson, whose possessive, jealous mother was buried in the rubble of their bombed house. The search was called off after three days by the ARP Chief, Higgins. Mrs Sanson was found alive on the fourth day, but only for an hour. Esther has acted in the twisted belief she is executing the man who killed the mother she never got away from.

Eden wants to talk to her alone byut Cockrill refuses, o he grabs her, pushes her through into the other room, bolts it. He corners her, approaching her with the hyopdermic. Barnes breaks in, Cockrill strikes the hypo from his hand. Esther confirms herresponsibility, and that she wa right to do so. he feels faint, asks for water, collapses. She is dead. Four poison pills have gone mising. She had taken them. Eden recognised the signs. The hypodermic Cockrill prevented him from administering held the antidote.

That is one hell of a twist ending.

So all is done. Cockrill returns to Scotland Yard to complete his voiceover report. In view of his failure – no, make that comparative failure – I am hereby tendering my resignation… in the firm and confident expectation that you will reject it. Cue credits.

Green for Danger is an old and old-fashioned film, and all the better for it. It’s an old-fashioned murder mystery that conceals its mystery well, allows for moments of genuie fright and yet applies a level of comic genius, otherwise known as Alistair Sim, that doesn’t disturb or unbalance the film’s serious aspects. It’s a perfect example of things we’ve lost in our film-making. The only thing wrong with it is that I’ve not watching it on an old black-and-white television in the afternoon, with a solid roast beef dinner slowly digesting, at peace with the world and untroubled by nothing. It’s still bloody good on Sunday mornings as yet unfed.

Film 2020: A Month in the Country


Of the various BBC Play for Todays and C4 films I’ve used to extend Film 2020 beyond its natural and impending end, A Month in the Country is the most genuinely film-like even as its concerns and its slow pastorality identify it as a television programme. It is a (mostly) faithful adaptation of J.L. Carr’s Booker Prize nominated novel, once reviewed here, with what we would now regard as a stellar cast, Colin Firth, Kenneth Branagh and Natasha Richardson, but which was then young actors, talented, destined to rise but here effective novices. And the film is better for their inexperience, as each brings a freshness to their performance, unaffected by fame.

The story takes place over the summer of 1920, in and around the North Riding town of Oxgodsby, a rural community, a place of peace, stillness, eternity and solidity (ironically, most of the film’s outdoor scenes, which are beautiful, are filmed in Buckinghamshire). Birkin (Firth) is a picture restorer, hired by bequest to uncover and restore a long-covered mural in the Church. He is also a War veteran who, like many who survived, is tortured by his experiences, which present themselves physically as a facial tic and a pronounced stammer.

Another veteran, archaeologist James Moon (Branagh) is living in a bell-tent outside the graveyard, hired on bequest to discover the bones of Piers Hebron, an ancestor buried anonymously outside the graveyard for reasons unknown that will tie into Birkin’s assignment. Moon’s torments are less visible, though they run deep: he suffers agonising leg cramps, has dug a foxhole for himself to sleep in, for safety, and then there’s the nightmares.

Birkin’s task is opposed by the Vicar, the Reverend Keach (Patrick Malahide), who fears a superstitious distraction, correctly it is implied. He is cold and distant – Mallahide conveys this superbly, just by how he speaks, in clipped sentences that seem to trail off, as if Birkin is not worth speaking to. The Church offers Birkin nothing but his payment, in exact detail: Birkin sleeps on floorboards in the belfry.

It’s not very exciting as stories go but that is the whole point. Birkin and Moon are damaged men, ruined men, men who have undergone experiences unimaginable to the men who went before them. Moon is outwardly the more cheerful, self-composed. He’s slightly shy and hesitant in talking but he talks where Birkin listens. Both keep what they have gone through within themselves even with each other.

But in Oxgodsby, Moon is the outsider, keeping himself to himself. Both men are outsiders, Londoners in what might be expected to be the insularity of Yorkshire, but in contrast Birkin is drawn into the community. First by the Ellerbeck family, who are Chapel (Methodists), whose religion is more severe and challenging that Keach’s didactic refinement, but whose immediate warmth and willingness to provide Birkin with comforts is as natural and instinctive as can be imagined.

And Birkin is taken here, there and everywhere, experiencing all of the community. It’s far more noticeable in the film than the book, but Birkin is put upon at every turn, to do this and that: umpire the local cricket match, preach at the distant Chapel, visit the dying girl.

But it’s all part of this one summer. Birkin becomes part of Oxgodsby, however temporarily. He takes part, he is treated normally, and slowly the tics and the stammer diminish. Only diminish, not disappear.

There is another reason behind this and that is Alice Keach (Richardson). Alice is the Reverend’s wife, at least fifteen years younger, and a very beautiful young woman. Even Moon – who we will learn late on in the film, spent the last six months of the War in military prison, notwithstanding his Military Cross, for “buggering his batman” – recognises her as a stunner. And Richardson is truly lovely, clear-eyed, brown-haired, slightly rounded of face, shy of manner.

What she’s doing with Keach is inexplicable and unexplained. He’s not worth her, for all his intellectual piety, she deserves someone nearer her own age. Birkin, by virtue of who he is, is the ideal solution, but that would be to trash the story. Birkin is married, to an unfaithful wife who has run off with another man but whose letter asking to try again (again) will draw him back to London at the end. But in the end, he is too withheld to make a move, and she too doe-eyed female to initiate something that will breach all her vows. The affair never reaches a single touch.

In the centre is the mural. It’s a vast allegory, the Judgement, of men and women, angels and devils. Birkin does not believe in God but the subject, and the quality of the art (created specially for the film by Margaret Noyes) fascinates him. He is drawn to a falling figure in a corner, disfigured by a crescent scar, and to a rough area not done by the artist.

The answer is simple: the artist fell and was killed before the mural was complete. And when Moon discovers the stone coffin that contains Piers’ bones, the mysteries fuse. Piers Hebron was a Muslim convert, and the artist.

Stories like this have no real end. They are epiodes in a life and thus merely phases. The end, in physicality, is moving on, Birkin back to his unfaithful wife, Moon to a dig in Baghdad. The Keach’s remain, as will the Ellerbacks, the Cloughs and Douthwaite. Emily Clough has tuberculosis: her death will follow. Perce Ellerback died in the War. Not even permanence was untouched or unchanged. We have lived through a summer that was an idyllic dream in a world where there is no longer any room for idylls: such ease will not last.

The film creates an aatmosphere into which we sink, gratefully, so it’s such a crashing disappointment to see it blow it in the last few moments. In the book, Birkin never goes back. The film endswith Birkin walking away, across fieds as dry and sunny as they were soaked and grey on his arrival. He looks back at the Church where an old man is approaching, carrying a book. The old man pauses and looks at him, before entering the Church. He is Birkin, seen across time, carrying the book in which Birkin pressed the rose Alice Keach gave him. The Church is a blaze of light in which he sees young Kathy Ellerbeck and her brother Edgar before the light suffuses everything and he walks into it and dissolves.

I shall fast forward thriough this bit next time I watch A Month in the Country.

That the film exists, and can be watched, is a matter of luck. It was neglected for decades before a random 35mm print was discovered, the same way old and wiped Dr Who episodes have been found, and the first DVD was withdrawn due to copyright issues. But, even after that nonsense at the end, I am very grateful to have the chance to watch this film, and film it is, ultimately. It deserves to be better known. It takes you there and shows you the surface, but it lets you see the writhing emotions everyone keeps hid, leaving just what they are to your imagination. And it shows you why Messrs Firth, Branagh and Richardson became stellar, when they were unspoiled.

Film 2020: School for Scoundrels


It is a truth universally acknowledged that on a bright, golden September Sunday morning there is little better than a dive into nostalgia.

School for Scoundrels was released in 1960. I don’t know when I would have first seen it, 1963 at the very earliest, these being the days when there was a bar or an agreement upon feature films being seen on television for three years after they appeared in the cinema. Whenever it was, it was Sunday afternoon, once Sunday television had been opened up to relative freedom as the grip of the Sabbath was being gently released: those quiet and uneventful Sundays of Mother cooking roast dinners, Father tuning the car, the somnolence of Britain away from the stress and activity of the six non-special days of the week.

Though it’s far from its purpose, the film captures that splendidly, sinking into its time, one I barely remember, having been a child at the time, but which is nevertheless burned into me because I was a child at that time and this was the world I was born into.

School for Scoundrels starred a fourway cast of Ian Carmichael, Terry-Thomas, Janette Scott and the under-utilised Alastair Sim. It’s based on Stephen Potter’s once famous Gamesmanship books, sketch books of situations turned to one’s advantage, justifying the film’s sub-title of or; How to win without actually Cheating.

Carmichael is Henry Palfrey. The film starts with his arrival at Yeovil train station and following, across abandoned and waste ground, of a series of pointing finger placards that direct him to the College of Lifemanship (prop. S. Potter) where he is going to learn how not to be a loser. Alastair Sim is Potter and is wonderful because he is Alastair Sim.

Palfrey (this is the Fifties, men addressed each other by their surnames, just as I did my schoolmates when I went to Grammar School in 1966, it was ingrained) is a gentle, easy-going and therefore put upon soul. He runs a family firm whose employees ignore him, and at which he is ruled by the Chief Clerk Gloatbridge, with constant reference to Palfrey’s ‘late Uncle’. He loves tennis but has been dropped from the weekend match. Everyone takes advantage of him.

But Palfrey has met April Smith (Scott), a nice-looking, slim-figured young woman, bumping into her as he leaps aboard a London bus from which she is alighting (the old fashioned, open-platformed buses with conductors). He invites her to dinner at a really swanky restaurant that refuses to seat them at first, because his name is mis-spelled, and then because they are late – from this faffing around. Enter Terry-Thomas, playing his usual snake-like lecherous smoothy as Raymond Delauney, who sets out to seduce April under Palfrey’s nose.

This includes inviting her to watch a ‘friendly’ game of tennis with Palfrey in which Delauney drives April in his hot-spot Bellini sports car (actually a re-shaped Aston Martin – even the car names are a glorious nostalgia) and one-ups Palfrey every step of the way, humiliating him in front of April,

The plot therefore is very simply. Palfrey enrols at Yeovil, learns all the ploys, and is accompanied by Potter on his ‘field trials’ in which he turns the tables on the crooked Welsh car dealers (Dennis Price and Peter Jones) who originally conned him into buying a total lemon of a car, getting them to take it back in exchange for a nifty little sports model and 100 guineas (guineas, ye Gods!).

He also asserts himself as the boss of his firm, by the simple expedient of introduing an error into the cash register to make a total £10 out before setting out to totally infuriate Delauney over a return match, not to mention screw him up over April. It’s beautifully played, with Carmichael investing Palfrey with a slightly artificial confidence overlaying a genuine confidence, turning up in tartan flannel shirt and old and baggy trousers, playing with an ease and deliberate slowness with one hand in his pocket to the ever-increasing frustration of the properly be-whited Delauney, getting increasingly unnerved at how everything is going against him without understanding how or why.

From there, Palfrey segues perfectly into taking April out for a drink, which metamorphoses into a drink at his flat, during which he employs a ploy telegraphed from earlier in the film to get her to spill her whiskey and soda all down her dress. April has to change into Palfrey’s over-sized dressing gown whilst her dress is being dried before the fire, from which it is but a step to decoying her into the bedroom to avoid being seen in compromising circumstances, a laugh at how sexless a woman looks in a man’s dressing room from ‘Uncle Henry’…

I’d like to drop out for a moment to coment on how backwards-looking this section is. The truly sexless atmosphere of the film, and its comedic naievete spares the film, but what we have here is a pretty basic demonstration of how to trick a woman into bed. The Potter book this is based upon is Woomanship, whose actual sub-title is quoted, being, ‘How to be one-up on a woman without actually marrying her’. It’s a precursor of the infamous book, The Game by Neil Strauss, and it’s a queasy undertaking. I confess that it’s only my nostalgia, slipping back into the time of the film, understanding its essential innocence, that keeps me from being heavily criticial of this section.

But Henry, on the point of sharing a very passionate (but still closed-mouth kiss) with an attractive woman, who is wearing only his dressing gown and her underwear, in his bedroom, not a yard from a double bed… catches sight of himself in the mirror and repents instantly. He wants April to dress and he’ll drive her home. He can’t go through with it.

Which makes all the difference. Because Delauney has seen Potter at the tennis club, trailed him and, offscreen, bearded him. Delauney pounds on Palfrey’s door, calling him out as all manner of cad, rotter and rat (for wanting to do to April what Delauney wants to do) and acting all possessive to her, here to save her, exposing what Palfrey’s done: from couch to bedroom in three easy steps.

April recognises how she has been betrayed. But Henry stopped, Henry reversed himself. And that made the difference. Potter shushes Delauney, who can’t understand why he, from so utterly winning a position, is suddenly the loser. Potter sees the birth of a new ploy but it’s not. Henry loves April, and April loves Henry. And now they’re kissing, in a room full of people, one of whom, Mr S. Potter, is seriously embarrassed. It’s the one thing that Oneupmanship cannot defeat: sincerity. And it is dreadful.

And Alistair Sim approaches the camera and addresses it, apologising to the audience for how things have turned out, and then his face twists in pain as he addresses the Orchestra, who are filling the air with romantic music as Henry and April kiss and hug and kiss and hug (lucky blighter) with Sim telling the band to stop that infernal din…

And the last shot is the train station at Yeovil and the pointing finger signs, but the man who’s gotten off the train is Raymond Delauney…

Ah, nostalgia. School for Scoundrels isn’t really a film, in the sense of a story. It’s just a string of cyncically funny ideas from three of Stephen Potter’s books given a rough shape. The film is about set-ups, sketches, and in the case of the final sequence, rather dodgy ones too. It’s heaped with familiar British actors and actresses making cameos with skill and professionalism, and it’s graced with a strong principal cast whose combined abilities elevate the film.

Like I said, Alastair Sim, a great and subtle comic presence, is under-utilised: at greater length his ability to undercut comedy with a faintly cynical aspect would have made the gamesmansip even funnier, but perhaps that would have been at the expense of the film’s essential innocence. Janette Scott, a very popular actress of the period with a wide range, whose fame has not carried on in the manner of her three co-stars, is also undercharged. She’s a perfectly lovely, fresh, self-possessed and genuine girl of the late Fifties, utterly natural, but April Smith’s role is entirely passive by the nature of the story. April is the ‘prize’ and she is acted upon throughout, which is a shame but only to be expected.

Ah, nostalgia. One definition is the art of seeing the past through rose-tinted glasses, more potently when it comes to your own past. School for Scoundrels is a film that saw the present through rose-coloured glasses so the two tie up together nicely. As I get further away from the beginning of my life I find it increasingly important to capture as much of it as I can. This still sunny, golden Sunday morning has been perfect for it.

Film 2020: Red Shift


Alan Garner’s own adaptation of his 1973 novel as a 1977 BBC Play for Today is the one remaining ‘film’ left in this series that gives me real pause for doubt. The book has been my favourite among Garner’s works since I first read it, not long after publication, and it remains one of my favourite books of all time. That I was unable to watch the film on its original, and only, broadcast due to an interview far away from which I could not get back in time was devastating.

Since first acquiring a DVD copy, initially by purchasing a private copy obviously videoed, this is only the third time I have watched Red Shift. Partly, this is because, oddly enough, the film is too faithful to the book. By that I don’t mean that it tries to capture in film what can only successfully be rendered in words – where such sscenes exist in the book, Garner sensibly doesn’t even try to include these. But the book is ninety per cent dialogue (it’s a wholly stripped down book in all respects) and to hear this spoken verbatim, with faces and bodies and settings wrapped around it, produces a strange and not entirely welcome effect.

It’s as if the film has no real life of its own because it’s shackled to the earlier, and very complete, work.

Red Shift tells a complex story that is not anchored to a single time-frame. It’s dominated by the contemporary love story of Tom and Jan (Stephen Petcher and Lesley Dunlop), but intercuts with two other moments in time: the remnants of the lost Roman Ninth Legion attampt to survive among Cheshire tribes and during the Civil War a village is massacred by the King’s Men. Both these parallels centre upon a young couple. There is Macey, the young beserker and the unnamed priestess who his fellows hold captive, pregnant from their rapes (Andrew Byatt and Veronica Quilligan). And there is Thomas Rowley, an epileptic, and his wife Madge (Charles Bolton and Myra Frances) who survive the massacre though Madge too has been raped – and possibly made pregnant – by her former suitor Thomas Venables.

In the book, all three sequences are equals, irrespective of the different lengths given to them, but in the film we are watching Tom and Jan to whom the other pairs are but slightly outre alternatives.

The film is a love story, of sorts, linked in place rather than time, with the stories centring upon Chesire, and upon the folly-topped outcrop of Mow Cop. They are linked by a votive stone axe of incredibly preserved condition that passed from one couple to another. They are linked by almost parallels reverbrating from era to era. But it is Tom and Jan, the modern age couple of the Seventies, who receive most of our attention.

The pair are teenagers of about 18, living in Rudheath, Cheshire. Tom, the son of an Army Sergeant-Major and a possessive mother, is highly intelligent, highly articulate, studying for something that’s never defined, Jan is a bright, attractive girl, dsughter of two psychiatrists, intent on becoming a nurse, which means her moving to London for her training. Though we quickly are introduced to Tom’s latent instability, it takes the film much longer to reveal that both are the product of home environments that have affected them badly.

And it’s on the very evening that Tom learns tjat not only is Jan going to London but her parents are also moving away, have already sold their house, that his parents start asking if the two of them have yet had sex.

It’s not put so bluntly but that’s what it is: have you done anything that would cause us to be ashamed of you? As it happens, the pair haven’t. They are tactile, hand-holding, hugs and kisses, but neither of them, and especially Tom, are yet ready. not that it’s any business of his parents if they have.

But the enormity of the question, prompted by his mother through his more-easily embarrassed father, strikes through the shield of Tom’s words and breaks him. Whilst his poisonous mother (an excellent performance by Sheila Tanner, a familist character actress well-siuited to harridan-like roles) accused Jan of being the unspoken equivalent of a succubus, Tom pushes a window of their caravan home until it shatters, cutting his hands.

This scene is treated as the catalyst of Tom’s link to his equivalents of the other times.

We already understand that Tom is on an edge and his words and attitude and projected self-confidence are things to hide behind. How much Jan understands of that now we can’t tell. For the moment, they establish a routine whereby they can see each other, in Crew, once a month. Their relationship is established instantly every time. Jan tells Tom she loves him several times. We notice that he doesn’t say it back. They find their way to Barthomley Church, scene of the massacre, and to Mow Cop, where Tom finds the axe whose journey to that point we’ll learn later.

To Jan, the axe is of vital importance, a ‘Bunty’. It is a thing of beauty but most importantly it’s a thing of permanence. She, like Tom, is traumatised by her childhood, a life of never being in the same place for long, always moving, never having friends, never having anything of permanence. It is theirs, it symbolises the relationship they have, that is coming nearer it being sexual, though it’s significant that she has to ask Tom if her’s alright about that. Because Tom’s not.

On Mow Cop, Macey the kid hangs around the priestess but never touches her. He is lost in confusion since using the axe to kill, sees Macey and himself as separate, with Macey gone. once the priestess poisons his mates, Macey is free and they can leave together, the axe buried in a riverbank where Tjomas Rowley will find it.

In Barthomley, Thomas has a fit and fires a shot that brings the Army down on the villagers beseiged in the Church. In pursuit of the rebel John Fowler (James Hazeldine), son of the Rector, educated man but still inferior, the men are killed and the women are raped. But Thomas Venables (Michael Elphick) only wounds Thomas Rowley before he takes Madge, sparing him to live and care for her on Mow Cop, with the axe built into the chimney where Tom finds it in its collapsed and derelict state.

These couples escape together, though one woman, probably both, are pregnant by another. Will Tom and Jan repeat the pattern? We already know they won’t.

Tom begs a lift to London to intercept Jan. He sees her arrive in a nice dress, with a well-coiffeured and eveidently prosperous middle-aged man who sees her off in First Class with a kiss. At Crewe she is in her familiar pullover and jeans. Tom pretends not to know anything but treats her in an overbright and callous manner that signals to her instantly that something is wrong. In the keep of the folly on Mow Cop everything spills out. The man was the German wine-grower where Jan au-paired last Easter. She lost, or rather gave, her virginity to him. A lonely child, unable to commit, unable to feel valued, because her parents never gave her time to be anywhere, his warmth, his appreciation, touched her. She didn’t love him, she never revealed her real self to him, but she allowed him to ground her, to learn value in herself, he made her capable of loving Tom as she does. he was passing through London, concerned that she hadn’t answered his letters, was happy for her and Tom, treated her and them.

But the explanation doesn’t take account of Tom’s own traumas, his instability, his unwordly and unrealistic attitude to sex, brought in on him by life in a caravan that rocks and has no sound-proofing. Saturdays and Mess nights, his father begging, his mother who’s directed her possessiveness towards Tom in some inverted Oedipal manner, making his Dad beg. Tom has worn headphones to shut this out since he was eight.

Maybe a psychiatrist could straighten him out but though now Tom wants sex with Jan, it’s all he wants, out to catch up on something he can never catch up to because his own insecurities, instability, will always push his goal further away. Garner wrote book and film as an expression of the myth of Tam Lynn, with Janet required to hold on to Tam Lynn, just hold out throughout all his changes, to save him.

But Tom sold the axe, the Bunty, to a museum in which it’s forever untouchable, to pay for London. Tom’s misunderstood, has failed to understand Jan so thoroughly that, between that and his change from giver to taker, grab, grab, grab and always promising ‘next time’, not even she can hold on. Not really now not any more.

It strikes me that i’ve failed to do the film justice, that I’ve reviewed the book,  not the play. That’s the peril of hewing so closely to the original. Red Shift the film falls short of Red Shift the book, no matter its qualities, because it stands so close it can’t escape the book’s shadow.

The  acting is good throughout, and the cast includes a couple of actors on their way to greater recognition. everything stands and falls on Tom and Jan, and whilst Petcher, in his debut performance,  does what he can with a near impossible role, Dunlop is fantastic, inhabiting Jan with a comprehensive naturalness, making every line the product of a young woman reacting to horrendous circumstances.

There is more to both book and film that I’m able to convey without going into such depth that I might as well just copy out the book. Ultimately, I’m not able to separate the two.