Wednesday, 30 June 2021

The Battersea Blue Line…. All Coppers Are... (1972)


A picture paints a thousand words, or does it? The truly awful cover on this Network DVD lengthens Julia Foster’s hair but also digitally inserted a new face for her and Nicky Henson based on a comparison with an earlier draft which looks far truer to the film. This, and the general consensus on IMDB and elsewhere, seems to indicate an issue with All Coppers Are’s “authenticity”; even the original images need airbrushing/photo-shopping to make up for the lack of Get Carter grit.

They should perhaps left well enough alone as a) there is nothing, at all, wrong with Ms Foster’s face – quite the contrary in fact - whilst the World doesn’t need a wax-work Nicky Henson. All Coppers Are is a decent enough film that perhaps left too much of a challenge for its cast to meet in terms of a “soft” script that is too much in collusion with the audience expectation of a gangster flick. But what buoys it aloft above the dangerous terrain of un-gritty is indeed the beautiful and expressive face of Julia Foster; she is the class act here and acts with a subtlety and nuanced grace that gives Coppers an emotional anchor it would otherwise lack.

*Dame* Julia Foster (or at least she should be!)

Now, full disclosure, I have had a crush on Ben Fogle’s Mum since I saw her in Mr. Axelford's Angel in 1974 when I was but a wee lad. She has an emotional openness as well as a perfectly proportioned face which made me, fall in love with her during the course of that play and every time I’ve seen her since, from Alfie, Half a Sixpence, The Small World of Sammy Lee, to the recent Dad’s Army film and Dr Who, she has never failed to impress. At this point she was 29, more than ten years into her career, and she gives the assurance you expect as Sue, a woman who has already known too much disappointment and is cautiously looking at all those around her not to fail her.

Chief among life’s disappointments has been her Mother (Sandra Dorne) who has shacked up with another freeloading boyfriend, Jock (Glynn Edwards) who, to say the least, is a little grabby when it comes to his “daughter in law”. But it’s her own relationships that cause Sue the most grief and more than once bitten she is very shy of new mistakes.

Julia Foster is in this film... and boy she can act!

The film opens with police constable Joe on patrol in his native Battersea – the films good location for Battersea and Clapham, still recognisable for any of us commuters who’ve had the daily pleasure of watching the old power station be turned into a modernistic mess by soulless developers. Back in the early 70s it was still working and, a few years before Floyd’s Pink Pig flew overhead, the area was charcoal grey, smothered in coal dust and exhaust fumes. Joe spots a young Robin Asquith attempting to steal a car and gives chase over to the slag heaps at the power station.

Martin Potter has a detachment which suits Joe’s vagueness and self-doubt and whilst these are characteristics well used by Federico Fellini, who cast him as Encolpius in his striking Satyricon, we’re in Battersea now and Potter seems a little lost even as he convinces with presence and skill. Joe is unformed and just about the only thing he is convinced about is his job, he has a young child with pretty wife Peg (Wendy Allnutt, once described by Dennis Potter as “paralyzingly beautiful”) who he married in haste after the unexpected result of their short relationship forced their hand. Yes, even in 1972.

Nicky Henson and Dame Julia

The third of our leads, small time hustler Barry (Nicky Henson along way from Charterhouse in this neck of the woods…) who is keeping a watch on a warehouse where he’s planning a robbery. He has a room in a house run by Mrs. Briggs (Carmel McSharry) who’s son, Ronnie is played by one David Essex whose next film would be That’ll be the Day. They invite Barry to a wedding reception where he meets and fancies Sue who meets and fancies Joe. After a few drinks they head off to the embankment for some larks and champagne, quickly bonding as friends as the triangle of affection solidifies.

Now, Joe, if you remember, because he’s forgetting… is married but he’s smitten with Sue and the two end up together for the night only for Joe’s conscience to finally kick in as he tries to brush her off. She turns her attention to Barry but the two run into Joe again in a pub run by the Malloys, Eddie Byrne and Queenie Watts - now there’s a surprise. Joe gets the cold shoulder as a copper but its only after administering first aid to a stricken pensioner that Sue and Barry discover his day job…

Martin Potter and the “paralyzingly beautiful” Wendy Allnut

That’s it for Barry, obviously, but Sue, so disappointed to discover his marital state, is more sympathetic… In the absence of anything better though she has ended up living with Barry and, against the odds believes he is a) honest and b) has work to take them away from SW11. This stretches credibility given her earlier reticence, especially after Sue joins Barry at the Odeon for ten pin bowling and a meet with some underworld contacts.

Time for Ian Hendry as sinister Sonny Wade, who brings the Get Carter grit with knowing menace enhanced by his friend Fancy Boy (David Baxter). Hendry’s radiates febrile threat with every quiver, a man of criminal passion who’s flawed ruthlessness presents Barry with a situation only a desperate man would accept, he has little to gain if he delivers the stolen goods to Sonny and everything to lose.

Cue, the finale and some unexpectedly dramatic twists and turns.

And pigs might fly...

Dusty verdict: Directed efficiently by Sidney Hayers and produced by Carry on’s Peter Rogers (there’s even a music score from Gerald Thomas!), the film certainly wanted to hit hard and even includes a well-realised sequence where Joe and his colleagues have to confront a protest march. It’s brutal stuff with truncheons flying before police horses arrive to kettle the ring leaders. Was this a comment on the political upset of the time – the nature of the protest is ill-defined, something about “fascists” and “student grants”, or just a means of showing how the Coppers, “bastards” though they may be, have a tough job to do. It could just be gratuitous of course, a tick of the “counterculture” box.

The script is uneven and the characters are a struggle for the performers to keep coherent. Julia Foster achieves this with ease – we believe in Sue, and her flawed judgement - but, despite a decent performance, I’m not entirely convinced by old-Carthusian Henson’s Battersea boy Barry. As for Joe, Martin Potter is sometimes absent without leave and at times magnetic given his conflicted existence. You care about these characters in the end even whilst feeling that there should have been more to care about…

If you buy the DVD for one thing only... it's Julia!

The film is available on Network DVD and you can buy direct or from Amazon etc. It’s well worth a watch especially for all those of us who love Julia Foster!


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