Saturday, September 01, 2007

This Is England

(Lindsay Anderson,
UK, 1981, 116 mins.)

My film may not be perfect—maybe it has too many ideas—but it is not drily intellectual. It presents to some extent a threat. It is subversive.
-- A director reflects

The general consensus about Lindsay Anderson's Britannia
is that it's the weakest link in the Mick Travis trilogy

that began with If... (1968) and O Lucky Man! (1973).

The first film, recent recipient of the Criterion treatment, following
a well received re-release, is considered the jewel in the crown. But despite the positive attention it's been attracting as of late, little mention has been made about Travis's other adventures.

I fell in love with If... and O Lucky Man right from the start,
and I'm grateful I got to experience both on the big screen
(I own the latter on video; I've now watched it twice).

They're very different movies, but both are, by turns, charming, hilarious, profane, and pissed-off. It's an odd combination that only a true original like Lindsay Anderson—with an assist from writer David Sherwin and actor Malcolm McDowell—could pull off.

I don't know if the first film's schoolboy in disgrace was based on McDowell, but the coffee salesman in O Lucky Man! was inspired by the itinerant life he led before his acting career took off—that's right, according to the DVD's informative interview, that means
18 months driving around rural England hawking beans. Brit-
annia Hospital
marks a return to a more fictional scenario.

In this effort, considered a failure at the time, Travis has become
a reporter. By the end, he is no more. I picked up a copy in hopes
I would be pleasantly surprised, but I wasn't. This over-the-top satire is worth a look, but it's not what I would call a keeper.

For one thing, it has little to do with its predecessors. For
another, McDowell isn't the star; he's just one supporting player
among many, including Joan Plowright and Mark Hamill.

Britannia Hospital may lack a star, but it doesn't lack a
subject—Britain's broken healthcare system (and by ex-
tension, the entire Thatcher-led, royalty-obsessed country).

For that reason, it reminded me more of Cold Lazarus, The
, or The Barbarian Invasions than If... or O Lucky Man!

So, I found the movie interesting, entertaining, and even mildly
amusing, but that third-act descent into bloody Frankenstein-

style horror was a bit much. Anderson lost me there.

Fortunately, it wasn't his final film. That honor went to the Oscar-
nominated Whales of August (1987), which met with a more receptive audience, and I look forward to catching up with it.

In the meantime, I intend to add If... to my collection—and look forward to 10/23 when O Lucky Man! finally hits DVD. And don't forget about Alan Price's accompanying soundtrack. It's a pip!

Smile while you're makin' it
Laugh while you're takin' it
Even though you're fakin' it
Nobody's gonna know...
-- Alan Price, "Poor People"

Endnote: I apologize if you thought this review was going to be about the new Shane Meadows film. As it happens, I really enjoyed the ska-saturated This is England, which is set around the same time as Britannia Hospital (the early-1980s). Don't miss it. Opens at Seattle's Varsity Theater on 9/7. Click here and here for previews. Anderson portrait from Empty Mirror Films. Quote at the top comes from the same interview (© Guy Byrne 2002).

1 comment:

Tupper Lake said...

I think this movie represents more about how the labor movement and the left are just as messed up as their so called class enemies.