The film was directed by Sidney Hayers from a script adapted from his own novel by Allan Prior (folk singer Maddy’s father), the founder-writer of ground-breaking, Merseyside police drama Z-Cars (with Troy Kennedy Martin), and spin-off series Softly, Softly. Prior was expert in police procedural narrative and also knew how to write about the police experience off duty, here in a tough part of London with more suspicion than perhaps in most parts of the Northwest.
The producer was, surprisingly, Carry on’s Peter Rogers and there’s even a music score from Gerald Thomas which, though it very occasionally reminds you of his more light-hearted work, generally supports the action well. The film certainly wanted to hit hard in the manner of Get Carter and there’s even a sinister turn from Ian Hendry, rather more menacing than his character in that film.
|The power station... where's the pig?|
What strikes me most of all is the tremendous sense of place in the film, as we start with a shot across the Thames of the old Battersea Power Station and down to the lone Constable Joe (Martin Potter) on the beat in his native Battersea. This area, and Clapham, are still very 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 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 draws the eye with screen presence. Joe is still 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.
Wendy was at drama school with Martin Potter and this undoubtedly helped their chemistry in their uncertain marriage. Wendy’s recollections in the accompanying interview are revelatory in terms of the location, the bleakest part of Battersea was chosen for their flat and also the wedding party, filled with “characters”, director Sidney Hayers’ efficiency and the whole shoot which was a positive experience: “a fun movie to make”. She even enjoyed working with the baby having no experience with such creatures. On second viewing the couple’s relationship makes for a more convincing arc, as Joe, especially, will learn a lot about himself over the course of events.
The script covers a lot of ground and is what buoys it aloft above the dangerous terrain of un-gritty is the expressive intensity 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. 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 World-weary 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.
|Julia Foster toughens up for this role|
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.
The third of our leads, small time hustler Barry (Nicky Henson a long 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) whose 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 he calmly administers first aid to a stricken pensioner that Sue and Barry discover his day job.
|Nicky Henson cases the joint|
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 a) may be honest and b) has work to take them away from SW11. She may have seen it all but she still has a hopeful naivety.
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.
|Friends forced apart|
Before this though there is a well-realised, almost too real, 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 but stuntman Chris Webb reveals in his interview that some of the extras got a bit too carried away.
First assistant editor, Jonathan Morris, is also interviewed about the work and he praises Hayers’ approach especially as he had started as a film editor and was very proficient from the point of view of the cutting room, his shots cutting together smoothly, and given the budget, very efficiently!
Dusty verdict: The digital transfer is sparkling and the watching experience is more enjoyable than previous releases. It’s meditation of the role of coppers in society is still a valid one and the character’s struggle to find themselves all too real, especially given magnificent turns from Foster and Henson especially. Julia Foster makes us believe in Sue, and her flawed judgement - but, despite a decent performance, I’m not entirely convinced by Henson’s Battersea boy Barry, he seems too smart to take on this risky job. As for Joe, Martin Potter is sometimes absent without leave and at times magnetic given his conflicted existence. Yet, you care about these characters in the end even whilst feeling that there should have been more to care about in terms of their available life choices.
The release comes with excellent extras including the interviews directed by Chris McCabe, with actor Wendy Allnutt, 1st assistant editor Jonathan Morris and stuntman Chris Webb. Morris is especially insightful given his role but it’s great to have the context from all three. There’s also a very informative booklet essay from Adrian Smith along with an image gallery and trailer.
|Sue finds out the truth about Joe...|
So, a massive upgrade on the DVD and a very interesting title that’s a must-have for fans of the period as well as the splendid cast.
You can order direct from Network – and you will not be disappointed!
|Looking shifty Mr Askwith|
Post a Comment