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  • This is a very sad and sensitive film, beautifully filmed in a very poor area of London just behind Battersea Power Station. If you enjoy Merchant Ivory films, the 'Kidnappers', or 'Whistle Down the Wind' then you will appreciate the delicate undertones of this story.

    It is very true to life in the late 60's in London and shows the resilience of the children and the sadness of a once great Music Hall star.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "The Optimists of Nine Elms" played last night to a packed house, and I for one wasn't disappointed. As promised, it was touching and yet not sentimental in its story about the relationship between a former music-hall star and the urchins who find in the old busker first a solution to their boredom, then to their affection-starved lives.

    The odd uncertainty of the eras in its setting -- as epitomised by the shots in which the hulk of Battersea Power Station and post-war slums are contrasted with jet-liners and executive helicopters -- is explained when you learn that the film's origins were indeed back in the early 1950s. (The director, who was present at the screening, catalogued for us the long process of delays by which it finally reached the stage of production!) And once you know that the scenario was originally intended for Buster Keaton, it's very easy to sense an unspoken echo in the writing of many of the scenes, from the scrapbook's childhood billing of "Little Sammy Hall" onwards.

    But Peter Sellers, the actor who eventually made the part his own after many re-casting attempts fell through, is by no means a bottom-of-the-barrel substitute. The child actors are good (although in places their line readings came across as stilted; Liz's pert answerings-back to her mother seemed particularly prone to this) but Sellers carries the film as the shabby, capering, yet unconsciously dignified showman, still working the crowds with material that ranges from 'flappers' back to the Zulu Wars. Unlike the children's parents, he can employ a lifetime's experience with hecklers when faced with juvenile persistence -- and they, of course, are young enough to be fascinated by his patter, his treasure-trove of costumes, and his beloved dog. Especially the dog.

    It takes a special sort of talent to portray a child of the stage who thinks nothing of dancing across a bridge while pushing an old pram, but Peter Sellers creates a credible character who is both a whimsical performer and a seasoned street survivor, aided and abetted by a soundtrack that supplies the unheard music of his life. We hear in voice-over, as if from a past age, fuller performances of the songs that are interrupted within the story by the business of the plot and of the busking life, and to be honest I kept expecting a flashback that would flesh out the ghosts of his past. But the costumes, the songs, the tales of fellow performers and the snippets of personal history remain just that: snippets that leave us, and the children, tantalised.

    There is a good deal of humour in the script, principally but not entirely in Sam Hall's idiosyncratic comebacks and put-downs, but there is also feeling. I don't personally like dogs, but the children's predicament has me touched -- and their performances alongside Sellers, especially the non-professional Donna Mullane as Liz, have just the right touch of hard-boiled scepticism versus hunger for magic. The busking budgerigar act is also worthy of mention! And surely this must be the only film to show brutalist concrete skyscrapers as the Promised Land...
  • I'm a sucker for Peter Sellers as well as movies that center around dogs, so I'm easy to please here. That said, in both title and by being classified as a comedy, "The Optimists" is a bit off. Yes, it stars Sellers and a couple of likeably scruffy kids, but the story is one of only light humor and much sadness amid a downscale London district bordering the Thames called Nine Elms.

    Nine Elms, as a lonely young girl named Liz (Donna Mullane) explains in the beginning, "didn't mean trees, it meant foggy winter, the noise of trains. But most of all, it meant Sam, the first to show us the world on the other side of the river."

    Sam, played by Sellers, is a street performer, or "busker," who like his faithful dog Bella is getting on in years but still plugging away singing for loose change at soccer games. Liz and her little brother Mark (John Chaffey) initially tease Sam, but come to befriend him and Bella. Sam in turn indeed takes them across the river to help him in his street act, teach them some songs, and talk about life, death and the wonderland that's one's own imagination.

    "It's magic, it's private, it's yours," he says of the last thing.

    "It's not!" Liz counters.

    "I told you that's a rude word," Sam tells her. "Use a handkerchief."

    Sellers supposedly channeled memories of his father, a music-hall performer, in the character of Sam. He's charming company, tipping his battered hat and introducing songs like "No Matter How Long Your Stockings Are, The Tops Are Always Nearest To The Bottom." His interaction with Mullane and Chaffey is quite winning in a natural, unaffected way, chippy at first ("Don't annoy the dog, son, she'll pee all over you!"), then gradually warming into believable affection.

    A problem with "Optimists" is the absence of any real story. Liz's concern with the world across the river stems from the fact there are nicer apartments there for her family to live in if they can get accepted by the right building council. Mark just wants a dog of his own. Later in the story, there is a crisis involving the getting and keeping of this second dog, as well as how the relationship between Sam and the kids is interpreted by their gruff-but-decent father. None of this adds up to riveting cinema, and "Optimists" sort of runs on like the river that forms its most memorable backdrop.

    Amble as it does, "Optimists" has an engaging quality to it. Director Anthony Simmons, both the writer of the source novel and co-writer (with Tudor Gates) of the script, finds the right balance of image and pace. The musical score by George Martin, with songs by Lionel Bart, accentuates both Sam's music-hall heritage and his budding friendship with Liz and Mark. The cinematography by Larry Pizer is stark but beautiful, much of it centering around the environs of Battersea Power Station which will be quite familiar to Pink Floyd fans.

    There are no stirring setpieces in "Optimists," but a lot of nice little moments that stand out when you see them, like another busker with trained budgies or an old woman glimpsed staring out the window at the children playing outside.

    Twee and manipulative as it sometimes is, "Optimists" scores with a solid Sellers performance in the middle of his dry early-1970s period as well as a quality of battered hopefulness that sticks with you. If it had been more sharply written, it could have been a classic, but as it is it stands up as a character study and leaves a warm impression.
  • "Sometimes it wasn't half as bad as all that, sometimes" Excellent Lionel Bart score adds to new style Peter Sellers, that of serious actor as in Being There. Superb London locations add to moral tale. Ex Vaudevillian Peter Sellers befriends two kids and begins to believe in life again and encourages the two kids from broken home to be more optimistic about life. A truly compassionate film that says despite your circumstances that there will always be someone who cares.
  • The old VHS tape had dismal picture quality, but the sound was quite good enough to understand the dialog. The DVD is the reverse: the picture quality is relatively excellent, but the dialog is nearly unintelligible. The idiot who re-recorded the sound for the DVD must be the same one that destroyed the sound for The Importance of Being Earnest and Waltz of the Toreadors. I wish I could synchronize the DVD with the VHS to get the best of each.

    This is such a wonderful film, a favorite. How sad that friends and family can't share my enthusiasm because of the struggle to understand what's being said. Nevertheless, I recommend it and insist it's worth the trouble. The film transports me to the time and place, and gives my emotions some healthy exercise. Try taking the journey from sadness and frustration to hopefulness and joy, with a fascinating view of the London of 40 years ago and a sensitive portrayal by Peter Sellers, one of his best.
  • It's been several years since I saw The Optimists and then only the once. But the movie stands out in my memory as one of the very best I've seen and remembered. I like Peter Sellers in any movie and this is one of his best works. The story is so typical of the era and it presents the gritty real life of the time, much like my own childhood. The tale is very much in the vein of Kes, another real life drama of equal merit, which was made around the same time and reflects the same childhood era. I'd like to see it again and own a copy of the film myself. If there is anyone with a copy or knows where I may obtain a copy, it would be very much appreciated.
  • aberlour3631 August 2003
    Despite wretched photography and poor sound, this film is an especially appealing monument to the romanticism of the period in which it was filmed. Sellers is excellent as the street entertainer, and the youngsters playing the two children who are attracted to him are riveting. The music too is to be commended. It's a three star film, worthy of one's time.
  • sotheran5721 October 2009
    I have seen this film a couple of times over the years and even though it is a little maudlin (most films with dogs and kids are) and, possibly, naive, it is very entertaining. Sellers does what I consider to be one of his best performances - up there with his rogue friend Terry Thomas in Tom Thumb. But being a Keaton fan it would have been wonderful to see him in the role with all his years of vaudeville and film experience. Can you believe young kids wandering the streets and befriending an old man? I wonder if PC would allow this kind of thing to be produced today... It has no pretensions, just good story telling. Well worth a watch without deep analysis.
  • "The Optimists" was a box office disaster when it was released to theaters in 1973, and has all but been forgotten since despite the presence of Peter Sellers. It's a real shame, because it is an absolutely charming movie. Sellers gives an excellent lead performance, making you believe this a man who is well travelled and a little tired and frustrated, but still goes on despite the circumstances. But the child performers who play the kids that befriend Sellers' character also deserve kudos - they are absolutely convincing and their performances don't feel the least bit forced. Director Anthony Simmons (who also co-wrote the screenplay based on his book) avoids a polished look and feel, and really captures the poor side of London and its various residents in a way that makes it feel absolutely real. The story is somewhat meandering, but has so much charm that you will follow it all the way to the end. And the Lionel Bart songs, including the wonderful "Sometimes" are the icing on the cake. If I have a complaint, it's that the British accents are sometimes very hard to make out, though fortunately that's only an occasional problem.
  • Mickey7718 March 1999
    This is such a sweet little movie - containing (next to Being There) Peter Sellers finest screen performance. The two kids are also outstanding and anyone who wants to see London locations other than Tower Bridge and Piccadilly Circus should check this out. A seemingly forgotten film, but well worth seeking out.
  • I remember the scene with the budgerigar act - Don Crown & His Busking Budgies! I would have seen the film as a child in the early seventies and in hindsight I think Sellers was also paying homage to his dad's time as a music hall performer. My mother was conscious of Sellers wearing a prosthetic nose as Sam, but it was a hell of a lot better than the one he had for the sailor guise (as Clouseau) in one of the Pink Panther films! My sister had the book that inspired the film and the depiction of the death of Sam's dog Bella was quite upsetting.

    A shame the DVD version's sound is poor and subtitles aren't available. I can recall a documentary being on TV about it and this could have done to be on the DVD.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I love the United Kingdom and have been there a couple times. I marvel, however, at how such a small country geographically can have so many different accents--very, very distinctly different accents--accents which are quite difficult for non-Brits to easily understand. Now I am not being critical--I know our American accents can vary widely as well. However, here is why I am on this little tirade: "The Optimists" is a film about the lower classes of London and because of this, the accents are tremendously difficult for Americans to follow at times. While they were not exactly speaking Cockney (something even most Brits cannot fathom), it was tough to hear--and the DVD had absolutely no captions (closed captions or DVD captions)!!! I HATE films without captions--particularly ones when the film is then marketed abroad.

    The film stars Peter Sellers and he plays an impoverished busker. A busker, for us non-Brits, is a street performer who works for tips--a tough life, indeed. He seems to be a man who had at one time been on stage--now he wanders the streets with his cute but mangy dog working for tips. Sellers is good for this role, as he, too, came originally from the English music hall before he made it big in movies and television. This sort of performance is quite in line with the chameleon he was in films--particularly during the last decade or so of his life. Because his roles varied so much (and films in quality), it's really hard to describe him as an actor. As a result, his films varied widely from the very bad ("The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu") to the broadly funny (the Inspector Clouseau films) to the sublime ("Being There"--one of my all-time favorites).

    Early in the film, a couple poor and neglected kids are intrigued by Seller's character and follow him home. At first he's a bit hostile and tells them to go, though after a bit he accepts them and lets them tag along with him as he wanders the city on his rounds. Most of this isn't particularly brilliant or plot-driven, though it is an interesting chance to see Seller add another unusual character to his huge repertoire. Plus, it's oddly fascinating...though I have a hard time putting this into words. I am sure, however, that many will hate the way that the film just meanders about--less like it's a story and more like it's just a portrait of some people. I will admit that all this did seem to go a bit too long--though it was interesting nonetheless. But, later in the film it all becomes quite maudlin--very, very maudlin (there's a dead dog subplot--uggh!). This is when the film started to lose me and unfortunately, the film ended soon thereafter. Overall, interesting at times, but terribly uneven and slow. Not a bad film, though not a particularly good one either.

    By the way, apparently the film makers wanted to try several other actors in the lead--including, originally, Buster Keaton. Considering he died in 1966, it's obvious the project was in limbo for some time before they finally settled on Sellers--who did a fine job, though people insisting that he do a comedic performance will surely be disappointed. Oddly, in some ways this film reminded me of the wonderfully underrated Chaplin film, "Limelight"--a film, incidentally, which featured Buster Keaton in a nice cameo.
  • I once saw this wonderful film on TV and would give my eye teeth to see it again or to own it. I believe that there is a musical film as well as the drama that I saw.

    For some time, I have been searching for a copy or the tv station that must have shown it with no luck. I did find a copy of the book on which it was based. It's lovely.

    In my search, I came across these comments and hope that the writers return to the site to see mine. Perhaps they can direct me in my search for the video tapes (VHS).

    With great anticipation, I thank you in advance for your interest.
  • Peter Sellers (in a false nose) as a poverty-row street performer in working-class London who uses a cute mutt to collect donations while he sings and plays the ukulele; he's soon befriended by two latchkey children from the neighborhood. Director Anthony Simmons, who also co-adapted his 1964 book with screenwriter Tudor Gates, has a keen eye for human behavior, though he allows his star perhaps too much room to show off and be 'whimsical.' There's really not enough going on here to justify the film's elongated running-time, while the bleak surroundings depress an already-melancholy scenario. *1/2 from ****
  • patricia6228 June 2020
    This film has so much kindness in it, and Sellers delivers probably one of his most touching performances ever.