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The Rotters' Club

Whetted appetite but did not quench thirst
Rather like its own character Cicely Boyd, played by Alice Eve, the Rotters' Club series was a tease. It created some good period detail (though not as perfect as its creators seem to think) and some interesting characters, but then hurried them through to a semi-conclusion after just three episodes. How much better this series would have been had it taken the - at least - five or six episodes required. The drama's expense was in getting the cast together and so the extra time would not have cost much more, plus this is was a BBC production and usually taxpayers' money is no object to them, right? Had it taken the time to explore Ben & Cicely's relationship rather than showing it starting but then fast forwarding to her ending it, which as a result of the unseemly haste made no sense whatsoever, then we would have had a potentially classic screen romance and a thought provoking study on the nature of infatuation. Other main characters were similarly badly treated. The missing sister went from being a lead player to disappearing without any good explanation. The nerdy lad went from having the brainy girl to losing her as fast as the journalist lad went from never being able to have her because of family problems to being her boyfriend in the final scenes. The whole story was supposed to be about relationships and instead only little fragments were shown. As is SO often the case, the female characters were particularly badly underused (and not just saying that because the gorgeous future huge star Alice Eve was not on screen anywhere near enough!). So you see, the above jottings tell of how the Rotters' Club made one feel, a really good drama that set an enticing scene for some serious explorations of those magic / miserable years aged 15 to 18, but which then failed to give itself anywhere enough time to do so, leading to even people who really wanted to enjoy it, like me, submitting a bit of a moan as a review!

The Seventh Cross

Bold and complex, astonishingly so given it was made during the war.
While watching this film, I was under the impression that it had been made in the early 1950s and was amazed and impressed to see that it dates from 1944. Although not all the film's messages intertwine as neatly as they might, it is - overall - a great success. It seems surprisingly long for a film of its era as well, though it does not drag on the whole. Spencer Tracy gave me some clue in this role why he is considered to be such a great actor (you actually see his face change as he recovers from the near animal state the concentration camp had reduced him to) and Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy also put in top class performances. The depiction of the concentration camp is astoundingly vivid for the time, with the theme of seven crosses for either displaying the corpses of the escapees or for putting them to death being especially grim and - as the allies were soon to find out - no exaggeration as a symbol of the evil the Nazis visited upon millions who fell under their jackboot. Modern audiences may feel somewhat ambivalent about the idea of one of Tracy's dead friends from the camp acting as a voice within his soul, but I think even those not of a spiritual bent ought to concede it is depicted with a light touch that does not damage the film.


The series that brought the BBC into the modern era.
Before (and in some cases after) Bergerac BBC dramas were pathetically low budget and often set in over-lit and wobbly studio-sets that were a throwback to a theatre tradition that television needed to take a step, a cinematic step indeed, away from.

Bergerac was instrumental in changing that. What makes it take this leap is that every scene is outside broadcast. If the scene is in an office in a police station, then it is filmed in an office. It may seem a small thing, but compare it to other BBC dramas of the time, like Juliet Bravo, and you will see how Bergerac stands the test of time and they fail.

John Nettles is superb in the lead role, but as ever, for a series like this to work, it is the supporting actors that make the difference and these are in two categories. Firstly, the regulars who are good and fun, especially Charlie Hungerford, a more subtle and plausible Arthur Daley character, and Barney Crozier, one of the world's most grumpy men, but one who you still are able to have a little time for. Secondly, the guest actors, and these read like a checklist of British dramatic talent, either classic stars making guest appearances (Beryl Reid, Sir Norman Wisdom, Richard Griffiths) or a host of younger actors who were on the cusp of being household names (Ray Winston, Resse Dinsdale, Louise Jameson, Lisa Goddard).

A decade is a long time, but the quality of Bergerac never failed throughout its ten years (which almost mirrored Mrs Thatcher's term as PM; it makes the series interesting social history for that golden decade as well as drama). Outstanding.

Escape from East Berlin

Conventional but well constructed (the film, not the tunnel)

As the Cold War has become a part of history rather than a fact of life, films like this serve as a useful reminder of the horrors of life behind the Iron Curtain and also as a warning to a complacent modern generation not to take their freedoms for granted. The fear and oppression induced by agents of the East German state demanding of the characters, 'Your papers!!', should silence anyone who thinks Identity Cards are a 'good idea'.

This film will not be in anyone's top ten, I fear, but it is a solid and worthwhile viewing experience (I gave it an "8"). This is enhanced by the fact that the male lead has an ambiguous attitude to the west and to any concept that life could be better or that there is any real freedom over the wall. Not only that, but we are - subtly - shown why he has developed this attitude and it is reinforced by some agreeably underplayed secondary roles, such as his mother and his uncle; you always feel that uncle is going to produce some sort of surprise... and he certainly does in the end!

The female lead is a slightly weak link, but not in any sort of Sophia Coppola style disastrous way, and I do think more could have been made of her parents, particularly her mother, who added a religious dimension to the ingredients of the plot that was not adequately explored. Her father's behaviour towards the end of the film displays the corrosive effect of Communism upon the human soul brilliantly.

A more complex and enjoyable film that it at first may seem, it is an intelligent contrast to so many modern 'action' vacuums.

The Music of Chance

This film is short on laughs....

This film is short on laughs, medium on quality and large on pretentiousness.

It starts off well and it creates quite an interesting air of menace, but the plot has holes in it that really niggle in a film of this sort and the 'completing the circle' ending seems silly.

The whole film seems very non-American to me, more French maybe, but that is not entirely a compliment in this case. If you videoed it, it is more of a watch and wipe than a put in your permanent collection!

Educating Rita

Looking back to a lost age for academia.

Michael Caine's portrayal of a British academic of a certain age is spot on. Although some of these characters were pretty useless, others were great people who needed to be allowed their 'space' in a way they are not any longer and some of each of these characteristics can be seen in Caine's portrayal of Frank.

Julie Walters character has some fine moments, such as when her husband burns her books and when he says, 'Of course we have done Blake' on the park bench with Frank, but there are other times when you can see her "acting" too much and the sense of reality is lost.

On the whole Educating Rita is a good film rather than a great one, but in what was a barren period for British films, it does at least avoid the pitfalls of tedious leftie-ism that so many others fell headlong into at the time.

A diverting 'compare and contrast' is to put Caine's drunk academic giving a lecture routine against Ian Carmichael's in 'Lucky Jim' and see which is the less embarrassing. 'Do you mean embarrassingly bad acting or a successful creation of a sense of embarrassment by a good actor?' I hear you ask. Well, decide for yourself.

Never Let Me Go

Curious but solid
An odd film but one that is surprisingly watchable and provides an interesting insight into the early stages of the Cold War. The film conveys the menace of the era and the grim, cold and hate filled place that the Soviet Union always was. Indeed from what we now know, one may even regard the film as being soft on the Communists, as the two Russian women in the film who take western husbands would quite likely have been taken off to labour camps (and 90% likely to have been killed therefore) by Stalin's secret police rather than just denied the chance to leave the country.

Some of the acting leaves a little to be desired and Clark Gable particularly seems like he is being forced into a part and a budget that was several sizes too small for him, but nevertheless a worthy and reasonably intelligent effort.

The Anglo-American angle in the film is one I always enjoy, it is always good to see the Brits and the Americans getting together!

The Straight Story

Tears of joy, poignant pleasure
This film was so good I wiped half the video tapes I had recorded from the television the same week because I knew they would appear worthless next to such a masterpiece.

The acting, the story and the beautiful camera work all contributed to this most touching of stories. A painting of a landscape with just the right touches of characterful colour in it, with enough reality to make the picture recognisable as a place we know, or that we would like to know.

Anyone who does not appreciate this film properly is either too young to have drawn breath from the usual menu of violence and over-mannered "acting" or they live life entirely on the surface.

Carry on at Your Convenience

Maybe it should not be funny... but it is!
I have seen this film so many times now, usually just because it is on British television so much, but even so, it is SO funny. (Enough "so"s for you??)

As well as providing a dense and long strand (oo-er!!) of toilet jokes, it also has a certain sociological insight into the strike riddled decadence of 1970s Britain with a classic portrayal of bolshy union official by an actor who did not appear in many (or any?) other Carry On roles.

The annual works trip to the sea-side is excellent too, just to see those places before they went into terminal decline.

You need a certain sense of humour and you need to be in the mood, but if you are... great fun!


Judge people on their reaction to the ending
SPOILER ALERT - Do NOT read the following before seeing the film, it would spoil it for you.

Having read a less than complimentary review from a source I usually trust (The Spectator), I was expecting not to care for this film too much, but in the end I have come think it is a fine work of art and a splendid antidote to Hollywood films. (I gave it an 8.)

I am thinking more reviews than normal will have to carry a "spoiler alert" for this film, as it is virtually impossible to write about it in an intelligent way without talking about the ending. Indeed, the frustration of not being able to throw out a half-a-brain standard review may be a reason many journalists did not rate the film as highly as they should have done.

Like many others, my instinctive reaction at the ending was to be frustrated and angry, but then I was able to reflect and see how right it was and how it fitted in so well with the themes explored in the rest of the film.

It is not a perfect work, however, and although the acting is excellent, there are moments when it drags somewhat and this prevents it from being a 9 out of 10 film like its sibling 'Lone Star'.

This is the first film I have ever watched on DVD and it does enhance the experience. I could not quite take all of the director's commentary, but I am sure most people will want to take a look at the first few minutes and - even more so - the last few minutes of the director's words.

Billion Dollar Brain

A love it or hate it film - I love it
SPOILER ALERT - Not sure if I do give much away, but to be safe, do not read until you have viewed.

Not being a huge Ken Russell fan, it was even more of a surprise to me how much I love this film. It is a quintessentially 60s work, but in a good way. Caine puts in another understated and accomplished turn as Harry Palmer, the anti-Bond of the age (though I love Bond films too).

Two moments I particularly liked were the crazy General and his followers burning pictures and whipping themselves up into a frenzy as the camera swirls dizzily around them and close to the end where the beautiful Russian wants to kiss Palmer as if everything is alright, just because she is so gorgeous, but he spurns her brilliantly.

The books are excellent too, by the way; pity even more Len Deighton works have not been made into films, though in fact a reasonable number have.

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