Saturday, 27 June 2015

In on the game… Games Lovers Play (1972)

Ah the Great British “sex comedy” a symbol of a time before when we were proud of our inhibitions and always keen to celebrate our kinks in the darkened communities of “private” Soho cinemas. There was a cinema club in Liverpool that used to advertise in the Echo; tantalising titles involving naughty night nurses and worldly window cleaners, Mary Millington, the alliterative British “niece” to America’s greatest sexual super power and a host of tightly-corseted, knowing beauties all smiling and “in on The Act…”

In reality, many of these films were little more than Carry ons with added nudity; relentlessly silly in order to off-set the slightest possibility of offense being taken but with enough pulchritude to ensure that the key demographic was satisfied and, on occasion, a plot worth following.

Well, on the first count, here we do have your actual Joanna Lumley (aged 24) revealing a not inconsiderable amount in pursuit of her no doubt considerate fee… As with another film covered on this blog, The Breaking of Bumbo, her agents seem to be on a drive to remove her youthful nudity yet the copy I made years ago on VHS seems to be the full Monty as it were which is apparently not the case with the current DVD release.

The full Lumley...
Is this important? You could argue that the sequences in question are key to both plots with Bumbo benefiting from the minute or so of cavorting that explains Bumbo’s devotion to Lumley’s character and there’s almost a naivety about the exposure. Here Joanna (I can’t really bring myself to call Ms L by her surname) is playing not only a sex worker, in modern terminology, but a character based on Fanny Hill no less. It’s a scarcely funny comedy with the sex but without it Games logical existence is pretty much negated…

Jeremy Lloyd and Joanna Lumley share a joke
What we have is a nostalgic 90 minutes that says as much about the watcher as it does about the almost quaint sensibilities which drove the creation of the film. I watched it because I was curious to see what the censors had denied my younger self and because I just like the period: call it comfort-watching… the equivalent of an arctic roll, a bag of Maltesers or a box set of On the Buses.

If nothing else, it gives the excellent Richard Wattis a chance to play against type… now that’s got your interest surely?

Lady Evelyn out talent spotting
Malcolm Leigh wrote and directed, so can take full responsibility, but he does a competent job. The story concerns the rivalry between two high-class madams, Mrs Hill (Diane Hart) and Lady Evelyn (Nan Munro).

The two ladies spend their time “talent spotting” young beauties from the idle rich, although it’s never explained what’s in it for the rich young things: surely not money which leaves open the possibility that the career in question is a vocational one (yeah… I know.).

The two madams clash
The two fall out over each other’s status and bet their best girls in a fair fight to seduce the most unlikely of males. Her ladyship choses her cross-dressing cousin, Jonathan Chatterley (Jeremy Lloyd) as the challenge for Fanny Hill (Joanna) to overcome whilst her competitor, Constance Chatterley (Penny Brahms) has to work with a Bishop (John Gatrell).

I’m less than clear why Lady Chatterley gets chosen as a prostitute – Fanny Hill’s profession is not misplaced though she was a victim of circumstance and not choice even in the Eighteenth Century.

The impressive Miss Brahms
Anyway, whilst Constance runs rings around the bishop, eventually winning him over with theological argument (really!), Fanny sets about her rather more difficult task by pretending to be a transsexual. This is the film’s best play with Lumley in her element as a kind of proto-Patsy with more balls (as it were) and Jeremy Lloyd playing it up for all his worth against a backdrop of some of the capital’s leading followers of the love that dare not dress down when there’s a party to attend.

Fanny charms the "girls"
Ultimately Cousin Jonathan is taken in and it’s all square after round one…

The stakes are raised as the girls are tasked with seducing the seemingly un-seducable Lothran (Richard Wattis) an antiques collector who seems more enamoured with people than objects. The girls move into his apartment block and begin to charm him.

Fanny shows Lothran around...
But, just as both get near to the game-winning breakthrough, Lothran runs away screaming “no, not alone, not alone…” You might have an idea where this is possibly heading but I couldn’t possibly reveal the denouement.

...and Contsnace gives him a lift.
Dusty verdict: You can decry the erotic sensibilities of the age but it also doesn’t do to measure them entirely against our current mind set – plus it’s not exactly clear how far the cause of sexual enlightenment has progressed in an era of equal opportunities commodification which still finds time to favour the male view.

The Lady ain't a tramp
As a period piece then Games Lovers Play is not without merits – a coherent narrative, well performed – and there are some funny sequences enhanced by a no-nonsense approach to the subject matter: it would be worse if the view was more “coy”.

Joanna Lumley is lovely as per usual and shows the comic instinct that eventually came to career fruition in Absolutely Fabulous. Penny Brahms is also good although she wasn’t to enjoy the same career longevity as her co-tart.

Ultimately the only way to evaluate films of this genre is to compare them with each other and you have to say that this film is perhaps less exploitative than the majority with its emphasis on the female leads and choice of the most unlikely male characters.

The DVD is now available from Amazon or Movie Mail but those who just want to see more of Joanna will have to look a bit harder or back to video!

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