Posted by keith1942 on May 1, 2012
UK 1979, Eastmancolor, 94 minutes. AA Certificate on release.
The film has not apparently been seen since its initial release. It was screened at the Bradford International Film Festival as part of a Ray Winstone retrospective. The Festival discovered that the director, US born Harley Cokeliss, had a 35mm print. In fact the Eastmancolor had faded and turned rather ‘pink’. However, a London lab was able to scan and achieve some colour correction. The film looked pretty good, though some of the night scenes were a little murky.
The film was Winstone first feature screen outing after the Television version of Scum. He was nominated in the BATA ‘Most promising newcomer to a leading film role’ for his performance. He plays Steve [sometimes called Brodie] and just out of Borstal.
Most of the film is set in Torquay and nearby Torbay, where Steve travel s in order to avoid the trouble silkily in hi London pad. However, he also has a new goal: a coach at he Borstal having suggested that he has potential as a swimmer. Much of the film follows his training in the seas for a long-distance swimming championship [running to 5 or 6 hours] held at he resort.
There are three other key characters: Angie (Julie Shipley) and Carol (Emily Moore), Leeds factory girls working as chambermaids at the posh Imperial Hotel. And there is Jimmy (Tony London), wanting a break from college study and helping out in his father’s butcher’s shop. He has his own car. He gets a job on beach boats whilst Steve works at a local Public House, The Pickwick.
The dramatic opposition is provided by three Scots in the resort, Tom, Georgie and Stu. There are several confrontations in the Pub and in the street and finally in the swimming race itself.
Steve is a driven character. He devotes himself to his training with serious commitment. He also develops a relationship with Angie, but she finds his preoccupation with swimming off-putting. Jimmy strikes up a relationship with Carol. Whilst Angie is clearly sexually experienced [as are the lads] and candid about her desires, carol is the innocent. Angie advises her on two occasions that it is ‘awful the first time’. But she seems to think it is still worth pursuing.
The AA Certificate is now a thing of the past, but it fell between the A and the X rating and excluded under 14s. The presentation tended towards adult material, though clearly aimed at a youth audience. There is plentiful swearing and explicit sexual adventuring, though not actual sex. The violence is limited, but candidly presented.
The soundtrack is also a youth project. There is frequent contemporary popular music, both sung and instrumental: both diegetic and non-diegetic. Oddly the end credits only list one song, The Zones’ ‘New Life’. In fact the NME Guide to Rock Cinema gives a complete listing. This includes The Boomtown Rats, Elvis Costello ‘Watching the Detectives’, The Ramones, Patti Smith ‘Because the Night’, and Ian Drury and the Blockheads ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll.’ So it is a great revisiting the classics late 70s though the film overplays its use of pop music.
The plotting of the narrative is conventional, even at times stereotypical. So the ‘villains’ in the film are the Scots. Presumably the filmmakers felt that this made for a clear binary opposition. But there is little shading in their characters or in their motivation. This also applies to the film’s resolution, which feels rather rushed.
One aspect that stands out is the freshness of the dialogue and the interaction between the characters. Their exchanges, advances and hesitations ring true and the feel of the teenage culture of the period is strong. There are also frequent cutaways to the crowds of holidaymakers in the resort, offering a strong sense of time and place.
Visually the film is extremely well done. The cinematography is by David Watkin, who by this stage had already filmed The Devils for Ken Russell (1971), and Robin and Marion for Richard Lester (1976). Much of the film was shot on location. I recognised some old haunts from the resort. The swimming sequences are extremely well done, [with a double at time for Winstone?] and include an underwater melee. What really impressed me were the night-time shots, in the streets, wooded walks and along the promenades.
The editing also works well, another regular from Ken Russell’s productions, Michael Bradsell. Often there is a black screen as we move to a new time or location. But on a several occasions the images lap over into he next scene, carrying the viewer and plot forward.
So this was a welcome discovery. Already Winstone’s strong screen presence is apparent. The rest of the cast includes familiar faces but no one whose career was as successful as the star’s. This looks like Harley Cokeliss’s best film: though his more famous role was as second unit director on The Empire Strikes Back.