Saturday, July 30, 2011

Pinkie's Return

At school i remember reading Brighton Rock. Not many things during my time in secondary education left any kind of impression on me at all, but this book really managed to capture my imagination.
I always felt like an outsider in my schooldays and perhaps this helps to explain how i found a strange kind of respect for the slightly 'distant' main character, Pinkie.

One of the reasons i feel that Graham Greene's novel made it into the school reading list is that there are undertones bubbling away below the surface in all the characters. Not only their personalities, but their beliefs and ultimately their actions.

Now, i am by no means a literary genius! With the majority of reading material i take things at face value as opposed to reading between the lines. In Brighton Rock though, character diagnosis is almost unavoidable. I feel the original setting of the thirties, between the wars, as being instrumental to the characters backgrounds in the novel. The fact that the 2010 film is set in 1964 did throw it a little for me at first, but still comes out shining at the end. Youngsters rebelling against a system which they feel has nothing for them is, i suppose, an issue we'll always be surrounded by.

Pinkie is a young member of an underground mob. When their leader is murdered by a rival gang, Pinkie has visions of running the outfit himself rather than the experienced Spicer. Spicer is played now by Phil Davis. It's amusing (and perhaps intended) to see him back on a scooter in one scene, what with him playing a mod in the classic Quadrophenia!
It was Pinkie's job to put the frighteners on their dead leaders assassin, but Pinkie takes it further. Gangsters or not, murder puts the fear of God into all of them, and they will stop at nothing to take themselves out of the frame. In the novel however, Fred Hale, Pinkie's victim is distributing newspaper competition cards. Hale betrays the former leader of Pinkie's gang and therefore our man seeks vengeance on this act.

We now meet a young girl Rose, a waitress spending her lunch hour on the pier. She is a shining example of someone who is in the wrong place at the wrong time. She gets drawn into the proceedings by seeing Hale and Spicer before the murder.This chance encounter  will change her life forever. The only saving grace for Rose is Ida, her boss.

Pinkie and Rose are Roman Catholics and both sin and morality are brought under the microscope during events. Catholicism is strongly challenged throughout. Ida isn't religious, she just has moral beliefs which play on the side of decency rather than doctrine.

Pinkie marries Rose from a completely selfish point of view. Pinkie will hang for what he's done. Rose knows everything and by law she can't be made to testify in court against her husband. She may think Pinkie loves her, but this gangster is a shrewd one. Ida of course knows this and tries her best to change the mind of the young lovestruck girl.

Why doesn't Rose come to her senses? Like many young girls of the time, her drab life is one of chores and a domineering father who relies on his daughters wage. The excitement of dating a gangster and being kept in a lifestyle she had never imagined possible is thrilling and addictive. One of the first things she does after marrying Pinkie is to take money out of his pot and buy a stunning and fashionable new dress. It's important to her to look the part of the hard mans wife as well as having something material that was always well out of her reach before.

Why doesn't Pinkie murder again rather than go to the trouble of marrying this girl? One murder's enough on anyone's plate, and besides, we're given to thinking he's a little fond of her. Not that we'll ever hear him say or show it. Dallow his one last trustworthy comrade knows it.

Ida has seen all this many times. We aren't told for sure, but it seems likely she has been in a similar situation in her younger days. She doesn't want to see her young employee throw her life away. Whether it's happened to her, or just seen friends go down this path, Ida won't rest until Pinkie is brought to justice.

Three very strong main characters that you can really get into the mind of. If you choose to of course.
The novel is a must read book. The first screen adaptation is superb. Made in 1947 this black and white stars Richard Attenborough as Pinkie. It's very rare for me to buy a DVD of an old film, but this is one of a small handful of films i HAD to have in my collection.
You will also see Doctor Who starring as Dallow. Of course, William Hartnell was at this point unaware he'd be travelling through time a decade and a half later.

When i heard a remake of the film was made last year i was a little suspicious. We all know how new versions of classics can frustrate, disappoint and even anger at times. As i said earlier, setting it thirty years later didn't inspire me with the greatest confidence. It really does work though and i think with each viewing I'll enjoy it even more.
I love British films. When they are set a few decades ago, then I'm in my element. I recently saw Made in Dagenham set in the sixties about the women machinists striking at the Ford car plant.
A similar time period at the seaside with Mods and Rockers then has got to grab my attention. It was mainly filmed in Eastbourne as it's easier to make look old than Brighton actually is, but you'd struggle to notice unless you set out to pick holes in it!

Sam Riley plays a delightful Pinkie. He has the looks a young woman would fall for, like Attenborough before him, whilst still managing to let the darkness seem like his natural exuberance. There's something about his eyes that really make it believable.
Andrea Riseborough is an actress who I'd seen before without really registering. That statement does her an injustice though as she's talented and perfect as Rose. Maybe that's the sign of a great actor as she's had great performances in films i've seen without making the connection. She looks, and more importantly sounds so innocent and naive at the beginning. You can as the film progresses almost hear the loyalty in her voice as she declares her love eternally to her husband.
Helen Mirren plays Ida. Do i really need to say more about that particular piece of casting?
It doesn't stray too far from the original and has all the makings of a 'cult' film. I hope i haven't given too much of the film away, it was never my intention to re-write the book. Just to give you a little insight into one of the best and most gripping stories I've enjoyed. Don't just take my word for it though, go on you never know, you may be pleasantly surprised.


  1. The new film sounds good mate. I'm a huge fan of the original and of the book so was interested to see how the new movie would pan out, so I'll definitely be checking it out after reading this post.

    I actually feel a little envious that you studied the book at school, three I remember studying were The Outsiders, Of Mice and Men and Walkabout. All were actually decent books which dealt with some important social issues in their own way, but nothing as dark as Brighton Rock.

  2. I have no idea how they choose the books for the syllabus, but I presume it changes from year to year on some kind of rotation basis.

    Fortunatly being a BBC production, it wasn't likely to be ruined too much. No Hollywood blockbuster makeover this honest film. Yes, I like my films like my football clubs!

    I really hope you enjoy it mate.