Saturday, 12 November 2016

Three's a crowd? Monique (1970)


You’d be forgiven if you were expecting a bit of slap and tickle from this Trigon film but in its own way it’s gently subversive and in general its production values lift if above most sex “comedies” of the period.

The plot is developed carefully and there are real, complex characters at the hearts of this: I don’t know where the patience and commitment came from but the end product is touching… and also ambiguous. The nearest we get to some phwoar moments are when Bill (David Sumner), the frustrated husband at the heart of the story, eyes up blonde bombshell Carol Hawkins (here listed as Carolanne Hawkins) but even their interaction has a contribution to the plot: it’s not just gratuitous.

Bill and Jean's street
At times, with the location shooting in a fresh new 1970s terrace a lot like Bob’s in The Likely Lads – all fresh turf and aspiration – it could be a sitcom especially given Bill’s struggle to meet the demands of his libido with his wife, Jean (Joan Alcorn) far more interested in other things.

Jean’s desires are more towards her career and getting a balance between work and the demands of motherhood. She’s still planning away after Bill moves on her one night and his efforts at arousal barely distract her from thinking it’s time they got an au-pair.

The space between them: Joan Alcorn and David Sumner
Switch forward and a nanny duly arrives in the form of the fab-gear sexy Monique (Sibylla Kay) a French girl looking for some extra pennies and a place to live in London. Bill is immediately taken by her white leather boots, short skirts and trendy skirts but she’s also a good cook who instantly charms their children.

As Bill casts furtive glances at Monique’s legs she’s chatting away to Jean in French and awakening a more cosmopolitan side of the house wife. Naturally the children are impressed and it seems they have got lucky.

Jeana nd Bill welcome Monique
Monique has a boyfriend in France but is free and easy picking up a young man Richard (Howard Rawlinson) largely on the strength of his driving a sporty Mercedes. The two go on a date, much to Bill’s chagrin, and things go boringly for Monique as she sits in her beau’s favourite bar. She makes him break into a football ground and the two kick around until the police come and chase them away: this is a woman who likes to take risks and run with instinct.

Bill can't hide his interest

Back at the house Monique sends Richard off on a promise and finds Bill waiting up for her… one thing leads to another and with Jean soundly asleep, the two fall into Monique’s bed…

So far so predictable but whilst Bill has a spring in his step at last, there’s a lot more going on than he knows.

Seasons greetings
It’s a complicated Christmas… Jean and Monique giggle like schoolgirls on shopping trips to sixties Christmas past and pivotal events take place from the vantage point of Bown’s camera looking down on the living room as Monique applies the tinsel, Bill dresses as an unconvincing Santa Claus and Jean wraps presents. Bill leaves the women to it as he goes to search the garage and, as the two women look closely into each other’s eyes… something happens but Bown’s smart enough to only show the aftermath: Monique alive with naughty energy and smoking a tell-tale cigarette, Jean avoiding everyone’s gaze and Bill completely oblivious.

We’ve been teased and the film is all the better for holding fire on the specifics… there’ll be time for that later. The immediate impact is seen when Jean goes up to bed and makes passionate love to her rather shocked husband.

Something's changed...
Spoilers… So Bill is in a state of bliss with both women ensuring that his conjugal cup over-floweth… But two can play at separation of emotional engagement and Bill can scarcely believe his eyes when returning home early to find that Jean is also enjoying Monique as much if not more than he.

Cue a trip to the pub, a dazed, un-consummated liaison with Carol Hawkins and soul searching all round. Time for Monique to step in and make sense of everyone’s feelings over dinner, a crowded bedroom and post-coital considerations on Woolworth’s-procured abstract art…

Dusty verdict: John Bown directs well – he also wrote - and crafts an above average drama that skips lightly over its still quite shocking subject matter. Bown’s wife, Sibylla Kay, injects considerable character into Monique who is an agent of change and a carefree challenger of routine be it an evening out or a marriage drifting well beyond the seven-year itch.

But there’s something about the ending that suggests Monique has done more than just jump-start Bill and Jean’s marriage… things may never be the same again and Bown leaves more questions than answers in an ostensibly complete ending.

When was the last time you did something daft?
Maybe it’s just a warning to Jean to not get caught sleep-walking again or maybe there are other possibilities… and Joan Alcorn is particularly impressive in showing Jean’s hidden depths: if the film has a hero it’s actually her.

The tone is however always light, and whilst not a comedy as such the film has a few smiles to lighten the tone of what could have been a far more serious and consequential story.


There’s fine music provided by Jacques Lousier and his trio (was that a subtle cross-ref?) which sounds almost completely as if it’s from their Plays Bach 3 LP originally recorded in 1959 and therefore not written especially for the film. It is great stuff, one of my favourites from my parents’ music collection and it brings back memories of listening on the radiogram in beige-walled living rooms just like Bill and Jean’s…

Monique has now been re-released on DVD by saucy Screenbound Pictures as part of their “Slap and Tickle” series: don’t believe that hype; there’s more to Monique than meets the eye.

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