Posts Tagged ‘British Drama’

Two films by Wendy Toye | British Directors

Born in London on 1 May 1917, Wendy Toye made her stage debut at the age of three when she appeared at the Royal Albert Hall as a member of a juvenile dance troupe. Her solo turn as part of the act brought her considerable publicity, and Toye began to perform in music halls and charity shows with many of the day’s top stage stars. By the age of nine, she appeared at the Palladium in a ballet she had choreographed herself, entitled The Japanese Legend of the Rainbow. Toye was soon in much demand as a choreographer and was invited to perform with Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe, where she met the film-maker/artist Jean Cocteau.

In 1931, she made her first film appearance, appearing in Anthony Asquith’s Dance Pretty Lady, but was more interested in the technical process of filmmaking than in acting. By 1942 she was arranging the dances for The Young Mr Pitt (where she was befriended by director Carol Reed, editor David Lean, cameraman Ronald Neame and actors Robert Morley and Richard Attenborough) and in 1946, she served as choreographer on Herbert Wilcox and Anna Neagle’s Piccadilly Incident. During this period, Wendy’s talents as a stage director meant she was in increasingly high demand.

On meeting the British producer George K. Arthur, Toye expressed interest in directing a short, The Stranger Left No Card (1953), for him. Made on a budget of £3,000, the film was a delightfully sinister parable which won the best short film award at The Cannes Film Festival and impressed Alexander Korda sufficiently for him to offer Toye a contract.

Toye directed the ‘In the Picture’ episode of Three Cases of Murder (co-d. David Eady, George More O’Ferrall, 1953), The Teckman Mystery (1954) and the domestic comedy, Raising A Riot (1955) for Korda until his sudden death in 1956 saw her contract shifted to Rank. There, she made All for Mary (1955) and the nautical comedy True as a Turtle (1957). Both films did well at the box office, but Toye had to wait until 1962 for her next film assignment, We Joined The Navy; another seagoing comedy. Toye’s last theatrical film was a short entitled The King’s Breakfast (1963), after which she turned to directing television drama, as well as continuing to be celebrated for her extensive work in the theatre.

Although Wendy Toye complained that Rank refused to support her desire to direct projects more ambitious than her comedies, she took pride in the fact that she never went over budget, and that her responsible example paved the way for other women to enter the field. She continued directing stage comedies until the mid 1990s, when she retired, with a lifetime of work in the theatre and film to her considerable credit.


Toye directs a thriller by Francis Durbridge that sees a writer fall in love with the sister of a pilot missing during during a test flight. Despite being superficially set against a backdrop of Cold War intrigue, nobody seems to be taking an ambling anecdote about a missing pilot terribly seriously. It might well have worked better as a B movie, still with the same supporting cast, of whom the most entertaining by far is Duncan Lamont as a sardonic detective involved in the case.@RichardChatten


It’s not every day you see a film starring Kenneth More, Lloyd Nolan and Mischa Auer (the latter playing a double role)! Directed by a woman, scripted under a pseudonym by a blacklistee from a 1959 novel by John Winton that vouchsafed a few home truths about Naval Intelligence, set against the backdrop of a revolution abroad and released the month after the Cuban missile crisis.

It it all sounds fascinating on paper, but evidently wasn’t considered any threat by the authorities since the makers were permitted the use of the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth and had the money to lavish upon widescreen & colour location work in Villefranche-sur-Mer. @RichardChatten



Masquerade (1965) Prime video

Dir: Basil Dearden | Cast: Cliff Robertson, Jack Hawkins, Marisa Mell, Michel Piccoli, Charles Grey, Bill Fraser, Felix Aylmer, John Le Mesurier | UK Drama 102′

Like Graham Greene, the writing-producing team of Michael Relph and Basil Dearden interspersed ‘novels’ like Sapphire and Victim with ‘entertainments’ like The League of Gentlemen; and they never made an entertainment more entertaining than this, attractively shot in Technicolor on picturesque Spanish locations with a once-a-lifetime cast (the witty animated titles sequence contains the extraordinary credit ‘Also Starring Michel Piccoli, Bill Fraser’; while Jack Hawkins ironically shares scenes with Charles Gray, soon to become his regular screen voice when Hawkins tragically had his voice box removed).

Dearden and Relph had for ten years planned to film Victor Canning’s 1954 novel ‘Castle Minerva’, originally with Rex Harrison in the lead; but fortunately Cliff Robertson starred when the film finally got made.

William Goldman earned his first screen credit making the hero more American, and it abounds in cynical one-liners like “In my country torture is still legal” and “I’ve – got – scruples?” and a priceless breach of the fourth wall when a sequence both suspenseful and hilarious ends with Robertson staring into the camera and saying “Somebody up there hates me!”

It’s full of surprises – some scenes resemble North by Northwest directed by Fellini – and in a scene worthy of Hitchcock an abduction is carried out in full view of a circus audience laughing uproariously. @Richard Chatten


The ABC Murders (2018) | BBC TV

Dir: Alex Gabassi | Wri: Sarah Phelps | Cast: John Malkovich, Shirely Henderson, Rupert Grint, Tara Fitzgerald, Eamon Farren, Andrew Buchan, Bronwyn James, Eve Austin | Thriller | UK

1933 is the setting for this fraught and febrile thriller that opens in a dingy London boarding house.  Shirley Henderson (as Mrs Marbury) welcomes a travelling salesman in the shape of Eamon Farron’s sinuously reptilian Alexandre Bonaparte Cusp who carries a suitcase suspiciously containing women’s tights and a typewriter whose percussive keys forms the pounding score that drives the narrative forward. Meanwhile, John Malkovich fails to convince as a sinister and rather constipated Hercule Poirot investigating the series of gruesome alphabet murders – so called for the capital letters A.B. and C left beside the corpses.

In an attempt to keep give this adaptation a contemporary feel, the usual zenophobic Brexit references are all there – but they just interfere with the solid storyline established by Agatha Christie and classily adapted for the screen by Sarah Phelps. Poirot’s credentials are brought into question by his new boss Inspector Crome (Rupert Grint), as the authorities fail to recognise the Belgian immigré in London. He’s certainly a shadowy character who could well serve for the killer himself. And his hard to pin down accent proves an annoying distraction from the murder investigation of a nasty blond waitress Betty Bernard (Eve Austin) who has denigrated her own sister (Bronwyn James), and Cusp into the bargain.

This TV thriller has more style that substance but it’s enjoyably auteurist all the same. Director Alex Gabassi moves deftly within the first episode to finger the main suspects and there’s a glossy allure to Joel Devlin’s images that conjure up the sickly claustrophobic atmosphere of a dangerously divided interwar Britain shot to pieces and still shaking from the horrors of social deprivation and shell shock, but still trying to put on its best bib and tucker. Apart from the typewriter motif, there’s a rather good score by Isobel Waller-Bridge, (sister of Phoebe). Great stuff for the Christmas holidays in three well-paced episodes from 26 until 28 December 2018. MT


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