FILM REVIEW: Brighton Rock
7th February 2011
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Brighton Rock begins with Graham Greene’s 1938 novel of the same name which told the story of the young gangster Pinkie Brown in 1930s Brighton. After killing a man, Pinkie courts and marries the only witness to his crime so as to prevent her from testifying. He is pursued by the honest and noble cockney, Ida Arnold, who in her determination to get to the truth, brings about a thrilling and lethal climax. In 1947, John and Ray Boulting directed an adaptation of this novel which would be later heralded as the quintessential British ‘film noir’. Watching it now one can’t help but see its weaknesses. The film relies completely on basic class stereotypes and a girl immediately falling in love in an unreasonably short space of time. A great deal of screen time is spent with Pinkie (a very young Richard Attenborough) glaring into middle distance with a “you’ve not seen what I’ve seen” look. For a 1940s audience however, being invited into the private lives of gangsters with the knives and guns, cash and treachery, would have been thrilling and groundbreaking for British cinema. As the 1940s arrived, it brought with it what we would later call ‘film noir’ which had been coloured by German expressionist cinema and French poetic realism. Damaged men with murky pasts were now the heroes or antiheroes. Brighton Rock stood out at this time as Britain’s great expression of how it related with post-war realism. In 2011, Britain once again took up the story under the direction of Rowan Joffe in his solo film-directing debut. Sam Riley (13) stars as Pinkie, Andrea Riseborough (Made in Dagenham) as Rose and Helen Mirren (The Queen) as Ida Arnold. This time the film is set in the sixties and includes the riots between the mods and rockers as a backdrop. There had been a distinct lack of depth to Pinkie in the original film and Joffe tries to remedy this by giving some vulnerability to Pinkie early on and showing some of his paranoid dreams. Unfortunately this is the only insight that we get into his mind and for the rest of the film, we see only the stony-faced Riley adopting the same glare that Attenborough had donned sixty four years earlier. The effect is much the same as we feel no sympathy or understanding for his character.
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