Monday, 21 February 2011

Film: Brighton Rock

"If you're looking for me, looking for me, I'll be down there on the beach..."

So sang David Feck of Comet Gain, of Brighton's seaside charm and the pull of that pebbled shoreline. As a previous resident of Brighton, it's a place very dear to my heart and so I was especially interested in watching the movie adaptation of Graham Greene's novel to see if it captured any of the memories of my old home.

But Brighton Rock is certainly no Quadrophenia, despite being set in the same swinging Sixties era of scooters and blues. The shoddy mob led by Pinkie Brown (played by Sam Riley) live in a city of mistrust, murder and malice, where the sun rarely shines and love is only used as a weapon to exert power over the weak.

I thought that he carried off his role as Ian Curtis in Control with unflinching precision, and Sam Riley's portrayal of such a different kind of mixed-up character defines his ability to embody all that makes up a person; from his hunched, square silhouette to a soft, muttered dialogue and distant nature. We are so used to the whole 'bad guy does good' plot twist in films that when a character is so devoid of any emotion and warmth, it comes as quite a shock. His controlled presence is chilling.

And Rose, played by Andrea Riseborough, makes an ideal accomplice; naive, trusting and besotted with Pinkie. The great lengths she goes to to avoid seeing the brutal truth of their situation is at times almost painful to watch.

What struck me most was how bleak the pair's relationship is from start to finish, never touching on any form of love (despite the trailer hinting at a tale of a Romeo and Juliet-style doomed romance). Helen Mirren's tough portrayal of Ida pertains to the hopelessness of their destructive bond, as she still stands in a powerless position, informed and yet seemingly unable to shake any sense into Rose, with failed attempts to break Pinkie's spell.

Although I've read many mixed reviews about this film, I was gripped the entire way through, and the plot themes really stayed with my after the credits had rolled. Perhaps it helped that I saw it hungover on a miserable, rainy Friday afternoon in the city itself, and walked out of the cinema into the chilly evening breeze with the storyline still playing out in my mind, and all the way back on the train to London.

Unfortunately, Brighton's appearance in the film is fairly fleeting as most of the scenes are filmed in Eastbourne, but the creak of the boards on the pier and the familiar turquoise railings leading to the beach provide an apt setting - anyone who's spent the winter months walking through the wind tunnels of the South Lanes in the lashing rain can confirm that Brighton isn't always sunbaked and bright. And the fading seaside glamour just adds to the eerie shiver of the underbelly that lurks beneath.

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