This sparse film wears its influences lightly on its sleeve and, whilst it could easily be the back of Monica Vitti’s head the camera focuses on as she looks out Thames-ward, it’s Ann Lynn’s as she struggles to find her depth of feeling towards her lover. French new wave and Antonioni may well have been formative but this film has a very British feel all of its own.
The film’s Thames locations have a muddy glamour accentuated by the somewhat under-lit camerawork of Larry Pizer: it had to be this way in order to cope with the contrast between bright morning sky and dark docksides. It’s a fascinating essay on London’s riverside showing a world just recently disappeared replaced from Wapping to Battersea by re-development, posh flats and office blocks… they only took down the old cranes in front of the power station a few weeks ago.
The characters are also particularly British (and Irish) with their quiet desperation: just about hanging on to hope through the distractions of sex, drink and see-through humour – which one of them will crack?
The film is focused on two relationships in crisis – four in the morning? – but there’s also another participant. The film starts abruptly with the discovery of a woman’s body: found drowned in the Thames in bloated stillness on the shore out East. Throughout we slip to and from the two other story strands to follow the gruesome processing of this corpse, all the while trying to work out which one of the two women it might be… if either of course. We assume the narrative to be a flash back and the work of the river police, coroners and undertakers to be in the present.
The story moves downstream from the initial discovery to a nightclub near Chelsea in which a cabaret performer (Ann Lynn) is winding up for the night. She receives a phone call from a man (Brian Phelan) but doesn’t seem keen on meeting up with him.
|Ann Lynn and Brian Phelan|
There’s love but she wants to be sure whilst he thinks sex to be the only way to demonstrate his feelings: to mean it he has to say it and the woman is chilled by his inability to explain himself.
|Lads night out: Joe Melia and Norman Rodway|
|Talk but no understanding|
The girl leaves and the man travel back West by tube and enjoy carefree moments chasing oranges across a bridge but it’s just a fleeting distraction and they will part at Aldgate Station (which has barely changed) leaving her to travel on alone.
The wife runs off but returns to find husband asleep… they talk about their lives and face towards their rivers front living room windows in neutral…as uncertain as ever.
The body is weighed, stripped and finger printed before being shut away in the mortuary… who was she? Do we know her?
Dusty verdict: Four in the Morning may tell a slight story but it tells it with style. Written and directed by Anthony Simmons it is a thought provoking film that lingers in the mind… The cast are superb and none more so than young Judi Dench. This was her first film, five decades before M, and her theatrical training is in evidence as her controlled expressiveness pulls the viewer in... we hope it's not her who succumbs but she's the one most believably at wit's end.
The film is available on DVD and is worth your investment: it's here from Amazon and here on Movie Mail.