Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Do you have to be an Englishman to like Brighton Rock?

I made a point of going to see Brighton Rock, a re-make of the 1947 film of Graham Greene's novel that starred - I think actually first 'made' - the young Richard Attenborough as Pinkie.

I wanted to see it above all for nostalgic reasons. I never saw the original film but read the book long ago and the story's most unlikely reappearance as a movie now intrigued me no end, even though the director, so I read, has moved the setting to the '60s in Brighton instead of the '30s.

I especially wanted to see what they made of that Brighton visually - they achieve such amazing things in film today. And as I thought it would, the film presented a soulless, seedy working class resort of decaying once-graceful buildings and hideous contemporary highrise. The sea crawls sluggishly and black, the pier with its tawdry entertainments never invites brightly by day or night. The town is desirable again today, commuter country, and one rakes around in one's mind to remember the Mods and Rockers who terrorised the south coast resorts for a while in the early '60s. The movie reminds of things you've forgotten or never knew at all. Old fashioned, bent 'coppers', capital punishment, the flick knife.

Most of all, though, however odd this sounds to you, it is deeply touching for me to see 'ordinary' English people now, re-visit their pub with them and hear the accents that I once of course never heard, taking them for granted - Rose, the pathetic, innocent waitress in the dreary little tearoom; the slimy, successful yet somehow still tinpot crooks and brutal English thugs; the awful pretentiousness of the 'posh' Brighton hotel where the middle class gathered to take afternoon tea or indulge in an expensive whisky to the background of  a 'Palm Court' quartet. When I saw Atonement - last year I think it was - I found myself in tears during the Dunkirk scene - a sudden rush of feeling for all the things I had never noticed about England and the English as I grew up an Englishman in England - the soppy bravery and resilience, the satisfaction and pleasure taken in poor and very simple things, the magnificent history in spite of all that.

I'd guess Brighton Rock is not for many women - I went alone because Tess will not go anywhere near anything violent. But Sam Riley, who looks astonishingly like Leonardo di Caprio, I'd guess would stir her woman's heart. Pinkie is an affectionless psychopath, but the film is about love, as everything seems to be in this world in the end, and about how even the very worst of us, the most nightmarish of all, does not live entirely without it. 

1 comment:

Bert said...

I think I shall have to make a point of seeing this film, Paul - from your very evocative description it sounds like sheer visual poetry. Poetry does not have to evoke beautiful things, of course, but if it can succeed in bringing the Brighton of the 60s to life the way you describe it here, I certainly would want to see it.