West 11 (1963) | Michael Winner’s dissolute drama puts a seedy-looking Notting Hill centre stage
When misfit Londoner Joe Beckett (Alfred Lynch) loses his job at a stiff upper lip menswear store and is turned out of his Notting Hill digs, he’s approached by an ex-army conman (Eric Porter) who offers him £10,000 to kill his wealthy aunt. With nothing to lose, the self-confessed ‘emotional leper’ heads to Hampshire to carry out the murder. But will he go through with it?
Director Michael Winner was just 28 when he filmed West 11, his 1963 picture of ‘you’ve never had it so good’ urban Britain set in Notting Hill’s grubby bedsit land. Alfred Lynch’s dissolute Joe certainly embodies the fashionable drifters of the day, who think they’re too good to join the rat race; and Lynch gives a credible turn as the ‘angry young man’ who masks his frustrations and deep-seated Catholic guilt by popping Benzedrine bills and bed-hopping with the likes of Diana Dors‘ bubbly Georgia and Kathleen Breck‘s lovelorn Isla.
Eric Portman‘s smooth-talking ex-army officer Richard Dyce, who thinks football is for morons and inner city kids belong in the gutter, is the devil on Joe’s left shoulder, while Joe’s nagging, but loving ma (Kathleen Harrison) and former family priest (Patrick Wymark) are his conscience: ‘when you loose your beliefs and values you are lost’. Meanwhile, Finlay Currie’s reclusive Mr Cash, who lives in lonely squalor with just books for company, becomes a frightening vision of a future Joe if he continues on his self-conceited path.
Despite the expertise of Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall in adaptating Laura del Rivo’s novel The Furnished Room, Winner’s attempt at 1960s British social realism is somewhat shallow in comparison to A Taste of Honey, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, This Sporting Life and its ilk. Otto Heller’s camerawork, however, captures a fantastic snapshot of Notting Hill (looking authentically decrepit) that’s now but a distant memory, replaced by celebs, Russian oligarchs and film fans looking for that door from a certain rom-com.
As well as Notting Hill’s Colville Terrace, which features prominently, the other London film location getting nostalgic nod include The Troubadour coffee house in Earl’s Court, an old Wimpy on The Strand, and Ken Colyer’s Studio 51 jazz club in Great Newport Street (in which Coyler appears in a cameo). The legendary Stanley Black and Acker Bilk composed and performed the film’s jazzy score.
THE UK DVD RELEASE
West 11 is available on DVD as part of Network Distributing’s The British Film collection, and is presented in a new transfer from the original film elements, in its as exhibited theatrical aspect ratio. The special features include original theatrical trailers, alternative scenes made for the overseas market, image gallery and promotional material PDFs.