Category Archives: British Film
The Naked Civil Servant (1975) | John Hurt’s Bafta-winning turn as gay icon Quentin Crisp restored in HD
Originally broadcast on UK TV in December 1975, this Bafta-winning adaptation of Quentin Crisp’s best-selling autobiography, The Naked Civil Servant, boasts a career-best performance by the late John Hurt as Crisp – a flamboyant south London engineer’s tracer turned artist’s model living an openly gay lifestyle during the intolerant pre-war years, where he proudly challenges the authorities that seek to suppress him and his kind.
Blackly comic, poignant and yet also life-affirming, this courageous story about a very unconventional British eccentric is masterfully directed by Jack Gold (The Medusa Touch, Escape from Sobibor), from a screenplay by Philip Mackie (TV’s Raffles), and executive produced by Doctor Who’s Verity Lambert.
It also boasts some colourful turns from the likes of Shane Briant as a cross dressing male prostitute called Norma and Patricia Hodge as an Isadora Duncan-styled ballet teacher. But kudos go to Stanley Lebor as the tragic Mr Pole (his descent into madness will have you reaching for some tissues).
One of the most significant LGBT British-made TV dramas of all time, the Thames Television production gave Hurt his first Best Actor Bafta and turned Crisp into an instant international celebrity and a gay icon.
The self-proclaimed ‘Stately Homo’ was hailed as a modern-day Oscar Wilde due to his aphoristic witticisms which led him into creating a successful one-man show and publishing further works including 1996’s Resident Alien (which inspired 2009’s An Englishman in New York, also with John Hurt). Crisp died, aged 91, in 1999.
Check out his archives here: http://www.crisperanto.org/index1.html
Voted fourth in BFI’s Top 100 TV programmes of 20th Century, The Naked Civil Servant has been restored in high-definition from the original film elements.
With 2017 marking the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, it’s the perfect time time revisit the film, which also gets a special cinema screening on 28 May at a number of selected venues nationwide part of Picturehouse Cinemas’ Criminal Acts season. For more information go to: https://www.picturehouses.com/film/the-naked-civil-servant
THE NETWORK RELEASE
• HD feature version (HD Blu-ray exclusive), restored from the original film elements and presented in its original 1:33:1 picture ratio with the ad-breaks removed
• Commentary with John Hurt, director Jack Gold and executive producer Verity Lambert
• Seven Men: Quentin Crisp – a Granada profile from 1971
• Mavis Catches Up with Quentin Crisp: an interview from 1989
• Image gallery
• Philip Mackie’s original script (PDF)
ALSO… CHECK OUT THIS UNRESTORED VIDEO OF QUENTIN CRISP’S ONE-MAN SHOW
Melody (1971) | This enchanting tale of first love and youthful rebellion is no longer a forgotten gem
‘A forgotten, inspiring gem’ Wes Anderson
Set against the backdrop of a 1970s south London comprehensive school, Melody was director Alan Parker’s debut screenplay and his first film collaboration with producer David Puttnam, and it reunited Mark Lester and Jack Wild, who starred in the 1968 musical film adaptation of Oliver!, alongside 11-year-old Tracy Hyde making her acting debut.
Quiet, well-behaved Daniel (Lester) and cheeky troublemaker Ornshaw (Wild) could not be more different but they become the best of friends. That is, until Daniel spots Melody (Tracy Hyde) at the school disco.
The boys’ friendship becomes jeopardised, as Ornshaw grows jealous when his Daniel seems more interested in a hanging out with a girl. Initially embarrassed by the attention, Melody comes to return Daniel’s feelings, and the couple announce to their parents, teachers and friends that they want to get married and now.
The adults attempt to dissuade them, but Daniel and Melody’s determination leads Ornshaw to have a change of heart. He and their classmates gather together at one of the children’s hideouts to ‘marry’ the couple, with their discovery leading to a final riotous, no-holds-barred showdown where the children stick it to the grown-ups…
The film was the brainchild of Puttnam, who had secured the rights to five Bee Gees songs and wanted to craft a movie around it. Drawing on the lyrics of those songs, as well as the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young hit ‘Teach Your Children’, Parker’s script captured what it was like to be a kid on the brink of adolescence in 1970s Britain, drawing inspiration from his and Puttnam’s own school experiences, and these are brought to vivid life by Warris Hussein (Doctor Who) and cinematographer Peter Suschitzky (A History of Violence), who make excellent use of the Lambeth and Soho locations.
While it scored huge success in Japan and South America when it was released in 1971, Melody – which would not have been made if not for some unlikely support in the guise of Joan Collins – got a lukewarm reception both at home and in the US (mostly on account of its poor promotion and being given the awkward title of S.W.A.L.K. (aka Sealed With A Loving Kiss).
But it has since grown into something of a cult, with director Wes Anderson using it as the inspiration for his film, Moonrise Kingdom, while Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron cites the film as the inspiration for him going into film-making.
Having finally watched in myself, I can guarantee that your heart will swell and you’ll have tears in your eyes as you see the world again through the eyes of these youngsters. It might paint a rosy view of inner city London life in the 1970s, but it will nevertheless bring much joy and contemplation about a much more innocent time. And the songs are so catchy, I went out and hunted down the original soundtrack.
Melody is available now on DVD, Blu-ray and EST as part of Studiocanal’s Vintage Classics Collection, and includes as special features, interviews with Lord David Puttnam, Sir Alan Parker, Waris Hussein and Mark Lester; plus a stills gallery.
The Magic Christian (1969) | Peter Sellers, Ringo Starr and a shipload of famous faces make this comic misfire worth a revisit
This wildly undisciplined 1969 British comedy sees a homeless man called Youngman (Ringo Starr) being adopted by the world’s richest man, Sir Guy Grand (Peter Sellers), who sets out to prove that money can make people do anything through a series of practical jokes and bizarre stunts…
Shot with an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink mentality by one of the seven directors of the dire Casino Royal (The Goon Show’s Joseph McGrath), The Magic Christian is an absurd satire on capitalism, greed, and human vanities based on a novel by Terry Southern, whose warped imaginings also turned out screenplays for some of my favourite ‘out-there’ movies, Candy, Barbarella, The Loved One and Dr Strangelove.
Southern co-wrote the film with McGrath, but much was altered when the film’s star Peter Sellers – who loved Southern’s book so much he bought 100 copies to give to friends – got Spike Milligan, John Cleese and Graham Chapman to rewrite some scenes, some of which didn’t end up in the final cut. The biggest change was Ringo’s character, which was created especially for the movie.
Not that Starr brings much to the film, apart from hanging on Sellers’ every word (which the comedy legend utters in a vast array of vocal mimicry), as he carries out his ‘Grand’ schemes. These include getting Laurence Harvey’s Shakespearean actor to do a striptease during a performance of Hamlet, blowing the shit out of a squire’s sedate country shoot, fixing the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race, and inviting a bunch of city types to bob for pound notes in a vat of animal blood, piss and manure.
Along for the wacky ride are Spike Milligan as a traffic warden who eats a parking ticket for £500, Hattie Jacques as a vain train passenger with a penchant for Nazi torture porn, Yul Brynner (voiced by The Rag Trade’s Miriam Karlin) as a transvestite singing Mad About the Boy to Roman Polanski, John Cleese as a surly Sothebys auctioneer, and Raquel Welch as a whip-wielding galley slave mistress, while Christopher Lee has fun sending up his Dracula persona. Shamefully, however, Leonard Frey (of Boys in the Band fame) is called Faggot.
The hit and miss satire ends in a shambolic riot aboard the eponymous Magic Christian, a luxury liner berthed in the Thames where London’s elite gather for the social event of the year (as reported by Michael Aspel and Alan Wicker).
While it certainly fails as an incisive satire (probably on account of it being lost in translation), The Magic Christian does have those fun cameos to tickle your funny bones, and the central London locations (with a Thames bursting its banks) are a real nostalgia trip. Watch out for the grotesque dining scene which could very well be the template for Monty Python’s Mr Creosote sketch in 1983’s The Meaning of Life (well Messrs Chapman and Cleese probably wrote that as well).
As for the Beatles-sounding theme tune ‘Come and Get It’, well that was written and produced by Paul McCartney for the Welsh rock band Badfinger, who released it as a single in December 1969 on the Beatles’ Apple label.
Fabulous Films presents the film on DVD in an unrestored version (some slight flecks appear here and there), with no extras.
Plagued with production problems, director Roman Polanski’s 1966 black comedy Cul-de-sac should never have worked – but it did and remains a critical high-point of his early career. Having won plaudits and good box-office receipts for his first British-backed film, the psychological horror Repulsion (starring France’s new star Catherine Deneuve), Polanski was given free reign for his follow-up which is now available in a restored HD transfer edition as part of The Criterion Collection.
Set on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne on the Northumberland coastline, Polanski fashioned a morbidly absurdist bourgeois-baiting tale with his long-time collaborator Gérard Brach.
Happening upon an castle on the coastline, wounded American gangster Richard (Lionel Stander) and his gravely ill accomplice Albert (Jack MacGowran) decide it an ideal hide and so take hostage its owners – retired businessman George (Donald Pleasence) and his restless French wife Teresa (Françoise Dorleac).
But the claustrophobic setting and long wait for help to arrive sets in motion increasingly disturbing games involving sexual and emotional humiliation between captor and couple that escalates into terrible violence…
When Cul-de-sac was released in the UK in 1966 (check out the premiere clip below), audiences really didn’t take to the film (probably on account it was too bleak and not the psychological horror that they had hoped). But when it then won the Golden Bear at the 16th Berlin International Film Festival, it quickly gained a new appreciation – and so it should.
From its outset, Polanski had faith in bringing his bleak comedy of manners to the big-screen and against the odds and by going rogue he achieved it.
A typically British summer (rain, snow and storms) and the wrong tides held up shooting, while method actors Stander and Pleasence caused ructions on set, and Polanski was accused of driving his cast and crew to exhaustion, hypothermia (MacGowran) and near death (Dorleac almost drowned) in order to finish the film to his exacting standards. Even the locals began to resent Polanski and co’s presence (especially in the local pubs).
Meanwhile, the film’s fed-up backers (Compton Films’ Tony Tenser and Michael Klinger) eventually shut down production after it overrun its budget– but not before Polanski had the film’s powerful 8-minute one-shot climax involving a Tiger Moth plane in the can.
Donald Pleasence is in his element as the dotty fed-up George, and his performance ranks as one of his best (alongside his alcoholic doctor in 1971’s Wake in Fright). Françoise Dorleac is also perfectly cast (also at the last minute) as the hippy-like Teresa – and her character is the total anti-thesis of her sister Catherine Deneuve’s sexually repressive character in Repulsion. Then there’s the gravel-voiced Lionel Stander (who’d go onto play Max in TV’s Hart to Hart), who is outstandingly repellent as the chief thug. Tragically, Dorleac died in a car accident a year after appearing in the film.
The other star of the film is Holy Island and the surrounding landscape, made luminous by Gilbert Taylor’s stark black-and-white photography – and the inclement weather (those skies are divine, especially when shot day for night).
And alongside the rich visuals is Krzysztof Komeda’s jaunty score that lends the film a sense of carnival and menace, two elements that are that the heart of this caustic satire (which would look terrific if it were adapted for the stage like Polanski’s follow-up film, Dance of the Vampires). Watch for Jacqueline (billed as Jackie) Bisset, briefly on screen in one of her earliest roles.
THE CRITERION COLLECTION RELEASE
• Restored high-definition digital transfer, approved by director Roman Polanski, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
• Two Gangsters and an Island: the 23-minute 2003 Blue Underground documentary (23min) about the making of the film, featuring interviews with Polanski, producers Gene Gutowski and Tony Tenser, and cinematographer Gilbert Taylor. Also participating are production designer Voyek, continuity Dee Vaughn and actor William Franklyn
• Archive TV interview with Polanski from 1967 (this is a fascinating insight into the young director’s cinematic vision about alienation, sex and his genuine dislike for the bourgeoisie)
• Theatrical trailers
• Plus, booklet featuring an essay by film critic David Thompson
Honestly, I really cannot begin the describe how ‘bad’ Essex Spacebin is – and I use those commas because I think that’s the point – or so it seems.
Meet Lorraine Willy (Lorraine Malby), a middle-aged woman with mental health issues who believes she and some intergalactic Rasta dude called Hogan have a psychic link with beings from another dimension. Armed with a PDF of Amen-Ra’s specs for an Essex-built pyramid, Lorraine sets out to locate a star key, which will gain her access to the parallel world…
Written and directed by David Hollinshead and Philip Thompson (who don’t appear to have done anything else according to the IMDB), Essex Spacebin is a low-rent sci-fi take on the Wizard of Oz with production values akin to the VHS shorts that I used to make on a lark with my university friends back in the 1980s. But it’s shot in glimmering 35mm film stock, which leads me to suspect that the whole thing is a joke on us viewers, and that its ‘badness’ is intentional.
So, are the film-makers hoping to pay homage to the likes of John Waters (Multiple Maniacs is back in UK cinemas in a restored version – yeah!!!) and the warped comedy of Troma’s 1980s output (in London, it was paired with Tromeo & Juliet, alongside a personal appearance of Lloyd Kaufman), and that their intentionally ‘bad’ film will take its place in the Midnight Movie pantheon alongside Rocky Horror, Birdemic: Shock and Terror and Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, or is it really just a waste of everyone’s time and effort? I’ve sat through it twice now and I really can’t make up my mind. So, if you have seen it, please do leave a comment below, and let me know if I have missed something?
Kudos, however, do go to crazy collection of characters that populate this mad, bad, non-star trek, and to the evocative techno soundtrack (from Ceephax Acid Crew aka Andy Jenkinson).
Essex Spacebin is available on Amazon Prime Video.
Patrick McGoohan headlines director Basil Dearden’s modern dress, modern jazz adaptation of Othello, with jazz greats Charlie Mingus, Dave Brubeck, Johnny Dankworth and Tubby Hayes appearing as themselves.
Musical comedy star Paul Harris plays Aurelius Rex, a musician whose wife, Delia (Marti Stevens), gave up a prosperous singing career when she accepted his hand in marriage. But the peaceful structure of their relationship is shattered during a late night warehouse party in Bermondsey, when ambitious drummer Johnny Cousin (McGoohan) uses every dirty trick to woo Delia into working with him.
This powerful psychological drama is now out on Blu-ray and DVD, as part of Network’s ‘The British Film’ collection, and is presented in a new High Definition transfer from original film elements in its original, as-exhibited aspect ratio. The special features include original theatrical trailer and an image gallery.
All Night Long also makes its Channel Premiere today at 9.40pm on Talking Pictures (Sky 343, Freeview/Youview 81, Freesat 306).
Psychomania (1973) | The British black magic biker flick roars back into mirthful mayhem in high definition
Let’s face it, 1973’s Psychomania is seriously daft! But this bizarre British exploitation oddity is also the only Surrey-set satanic frog-worshipping zombie biker flick ever to be made in the UK. Now it’s about to raise hell amongst horror aficionados again as the BFI brings it back from the dead for a re-mastered 2k dual format release.
Set its own warped version of Walton-on-Thames where pram and shopping trolley-pushing suburbanites live cheek to cheek next to a ancient pagan site where legend has it that a coven of witches were turned to stone, Psychomania (I have no idea why its called that either) finds real-life motorbike fan Nicky Henson (taking time out from treading the boards at the Young Vic) donning his own leathers and revving up a clapped out AJS to head up The Living Dead, a group of posh-sounding Hell’s Angel’s types with a penchant for tie-dye, crochet knitted tops, multi-coloured name patches and singing mournful folk songs.
Bored shitless in suburbia, where the only fun they get is in knocking down cereal boxes at the Hepworth Way Shopping Centre, Nicky’s medallion man makes a pact with the Devil in return for the secret of immortality, commits suicide, then returns from the grave. Soon his gang (who come off like Eric von Zipper’s Rat Pack in the Beach Party movies) are following their leader in order to create more Beano-esque mischief down at the shops.
Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Well that’s what makes this black magic biker flick from director Don Sharp (who also helmed the Fu Manchu movies and the Tony Randall comedy Our Man in Marrakesh for Harry Alan Towers) so much fun. Plus there’s Beryl Reid as the high mistress of comfy sofas and veteran Hollywood actor George Sanders casting a long shadow as the ghoulish guardian of a big toad that possesses arcane powers (no idea why, either!).
Their scenes take place in what looks like a showroom for the crème de la crème of 20th-century chair design (some I spied in Taschen’s 1000 Chairs), and it’s also the setting for some improvised waltzes between Reid and Henson and some ridiculous straight-faced dialogue, like ‘I’m dead, Mother, but apart from that, I couldn’t be better!’.
And if that’s not enough to wrap your laughing gear around, wait until you see the dead coppers lined up inside the mortuary cool boxes (that ended up in Space 1999) and the wonky prison-set where Doctor Who’s Sergeant Benson (John Levene) presides. There’s also guest appearances from the like of Robert Hardy, Bill Pertwee and future EastEnder June Brown (who would follow this movie with David Hemming’s Jack Wild drama, The 14).
Mind you, the action sequences (which all take place on the newly built M3) are terrific and more than once did I find myself shouting ‘OMG’ at screen as those spluttering bikes narrowly missed coming a cropper; while a sequence involving Hatchet (Blood on Satan’s Claw‘s Denis Gilmore) jumping off a bridge in front of a oncoming Commer van is a standout. Playing one of the suicidal bikers is Britain’s oldest stuntman Rocky Taylor, who has worked on everything from James Bond to Harry Potter.
Topping it all, however, is the soundtrack by Donovan’s former arranger, composer John Cameron. A mix of 1960s pre-punk garage, doom-laden psychedelia, and blaxplotation-infused funk, peppered with ecclesiastical organ sounds and early prog. – it belongs in every film buffs soundtrack collection. And makes a fitting companion to this new BFI release, which is a must have.
Sadly, this was the final feature for 65-year-old George Sanders. The Hollywood legend, who had made a career out of being a cad in classics like Rebecca, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and The House of the Seven Gables, committed suicide on 25 April 1972 in Spain – and some say this was the last thing he ever saw…
• Newly re-mastered in 2K and presented in the original aspect ratio (1.66:1), with optional subtitles.
• Return of the Living Dead (2010, 25 mins): featuring interviews with stars Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore, Roy Holder and Rocky Taylor.
• Sound of Psychomania (2010, 9 mins): interview with composer John Cameron.
• Riding Free (2010, 7 mins): interview with singer-songwriter Harvey Andrews.
• Interview with Nicky Henson (2016, 14 mins): who recalls his time on the film (much of which is a repeat of what he says in the 2010 featurette).
• Hell for Leather (2016, 8 mins): Short film about the company who supplied the film’s costumes.
• Remastering Psychomania (2016, 2 mins):
• Discovering Britain (1955, 3 mins) Fantastic vintage travelogue, narrated by the celebrated poet, about the Avebury stone circle.
• Roger Wonders Why (1965, 19 mins): Amateur film which sees two Christian biker youths visit the 59 Club, and meet its founder Reverend Bill Shergold. You have to stick with it to understand why its included here.
• Original theatrical trailer.
• Wilson Bros Trivia Track (2016, 91min, onscreen text): in lieu of an audio commentary, this is a hilarious subtitle trivia track, and works a treat.
• Collector’s booklet with new writings on the film; plus full film credits.
Sid & Nancy is one of the most important films ever made about the UK punk era, featuring career-defining performances from Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb, and made director Alex Cox the one to watch following his 1984 cult Repo Man. To celebrate the punk classic’s 30th anniversary – as part of the Punk at 40 celebrations – comes a restored DVD/Blu-ray release from Studiocanal in the UK.
This isn’t a tale of ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’, but a harrowing drama about ‘drugs, depression and death’ – one that deals with the tragic life of the Sex Pistols’ bass player Sid Vicious. And it all rests on Gary Oldman’s ferocious performance as the drug-addled Vicious (aka John Beverly), as well as Chloe Webb’s grating turn as his groupie American girlfriend Nancy Spungen. Cox’s gruelling depiction of Sid’s slow downward spiral into heroin addiction, self parody and miserable death is anything but entertaining, but as a sensitive and powerful character study, it makes for compulsive viewing.
The special edition Blu-ray/DVD features the restored film approved by cinematographer Roger Deakins (Hail Caesar, The Shawshank Redemption), and a host of special features, including interviews with Deakins, director Alex Cox and Big Audio Dynamite’s Don Letts.
To celebrate its release, there’s a special screening on 29 August in support of War Child at Screen on the Green – the same venue where the Sex Pistols played in 1977 – which will also include a DJ set from Don Letts . For more information, visit: http://www.everymancinema.com/films/film-info?film=14451