This is not only amongst the very best of British science fiction but also a love letter to the British press or at least Fleet Street when it was Fleet Street. These are the men and women who search out stories in the public interest and who work unsocial hours risking life and liver in pursuit of the “story”.
The focus is on the great art deco Daily Express headquarters and everyone from an actual former-editor Arthur Christiansen (1933 to 57 – a long stint!) – who plays Jeff Jefferson the Editor – to the machine minders and the craftsmen who worked the hot metal presses day and night to deliver the news in a world every bit as 24/7 as our own. The Express and others was always open breaking news and only ever a plate make up, quick print run and rapid delivery by its fleet of vans, from informing its public of every key development: from press room to doorstep in mere hours all verified and proof-read (mostly).
So, when governments let us down and we screw up the planet, who can we rely on for the truth?
|Edward Judd and Leo McKern outside the art deco splendour of The Express|
Cut to the press room as it was, full of care-worn, wise-cracking journalists navigating their way through the fast-moving events of a slow news day. Bill Maguire (Leo McKern) cracks wiser than most and is covering for a pal, Stenning, who has lost his way following divorce and an over-reliance on journalists’ ruin. Pete can barely string a story together and is rapidly running out of favours missing deadlines and many a point.
|The press room - stories must have IMPACT!|
|Stenning's charm initially fails him...|
|Eclipse over Trafalgar Square|
The two share an ice cream and then nature takes another unexpected turn as a deep fog spreads rapidly up the Thames causing panic… On a limited budget director Val Guest makes the absolute most of his special effects and even with the unforgiving clarity of Blu-Ray, the scenes of London smothered in unnatural fog are still impressive.
|The mist rises over Battersea|
Guest shows some provocative shots of Jeannie in her bathroom before Pete arrives to be offered a couple of pillows and the bath… Theirs feels like a very real relationship for the time: she reluctant to give way not trusting the look of post-commitment in his eyes. But he is serious and the situation is getting far worse: if you were the only girl in the World and I were the only boy…
|Things hot up|
Meanwhile the authorities begin to clamp down on disintegrating society and water rations and near martial law are introduced.
|What a scorcha!|
But Pete is getting himself focused not just on Jeannie but on The Story. His creative “Muscle memory” kicks in and he does his best for his readers, his talent and the wonderful new woman in his life.
|The Express team wait for news|
Mankind’s last throw of the dice is to repeat the two atomic explosions in the hope of reversing or at least halting the planet’s drift. The minutes count down and then we return to the film’s beginning as Pete makes his weary way back to the Express. In the print room the crews prepare two front pages one for salvation and one for doom… Church bells hint at the former but you have to make your own mind up…
|Parched Fleet Street|
Leo McKern went on to have a long and illustrious career but his other co-stars were less fortunate, Edward Judd surprisingly never established himself as a regular leading man – a difficult temperament possibly holding him back (according to Val Guest) – although he got regular work and was a fixture of voice-overs in the 70s and 80s.
The film is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Amazon and every home should have one!
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