Posts Tagged ‘British thriller’

Here Before (2021)

Wri/Dir: Stacey Greggs | Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Jonjo O’Neill, Niamh Dornan, Eileen O’HIggins | UK Drama 83′

Andre Riseborough always choses interesting roles and here she once again proves her talents as grieving Belfast mother Laura in this inventive thriller written and directed by Stacey Gregg who is best known for his TV work.

Profound grief is not only about depression. Tragic loss can play tricks with the mind inducing nightmares and even thoughts of reincarnation for the recently bereaved. And this is exactly what happens to Laura. Greggs clearly had Don’t Look Now in mind when writing the lead character who can’t get over the loss of her little girl in a car accident when her husband Brendan (O’Neil) was driving.

In the rainy rural outskirts of Belfast Laura lives in a semi with Brendan and their preteen son Tadhg (McAskie). Their next door neighbour’s daughter Megan (Dornan) bears a striking resemblance to her own little girl, and soon Laura is giving her lifts to school and even dreaming about her, but it soon turns out her suspicions are justified. What happens next is pivotal in this surprisingly tense thriller with surreal undertones and more than a few skeletons in its chilly cupboard. Greggs’ strong narrative keeps us intrigued in a story that doesn’t rely on atmosphere to carry the plot forward, as it so often the case with inexperienced filmmakers, and although the denouement teeters on melodrama the emotional fallout feels more than justified in the circumstances. MT


Went the Day Well? (1942)

Dir: Alberto Cavalcanti | Cast: Leslie Banks, C V France, Valerie Taylor, Marie Lohr | UK Thriller 82′

A pretty little English village at Whitsun provides an incongruous backdrop to this remarkably ruthless piece of wartime propaganda in which the Germans behave like utter swine, striking children, shooting old men in the back and bayoneting a woman; in return for which they pay dearly in a variety of eye-watering ways.

Based on the short story by Graham Greene entitled The Lieutenant Died Last, and adapted for the screen by a trio of writers, the part the women play in all this is particularly interesting. One of the land girls looks as if she’s going to be sick after shooting a German while the other is obviously having the time of her life, the lady of the manor shows she’s not as daft as she first seems, and performs an incredible act of self sacrifice (during which she initially collides with the door frame, which director Cavalcanti wisely kept in); while a woman realising the man she loves is a traitor gets her revenge for his double betrayal by continuing to shoot him two more times after she’s already felled him. @RichardChatten


Smokescreen (1964)

Dir: Jim O’Connolly | UK thriller 70’

One of the many perks of the British ‘B’ movie of the early 60s was occasionally seeing a proper actor rather than merely a bankable star getting a lead role; and it only needs to happen once for posterity to be able to sit back and enjoy the result.

Just five years after an uncredited bit as a detective in ‘Sapphire’ – but long before his memorable TV turns in the likes of ‘Porridge’ and ‘Citizen Smith’ – the late Peter Vaughan effortlessly demonstrates his ability to carry a film lead on his broad shoulders, backed by a terrific supporting cast (mainly drawn from TV) including Sam Kydd and the town of Brighton.

The character Vaughan plays is given individuality by making him pathologically tight with money. I think it was a failure of nerve on the part of the film’s makers to add what looks like a last minute addition to make him more sympathetic in the form of the scene of him throwing money about with complete abandon visiting his sick wife in hospital; although even that provides an even rarer big screen appearance by another friendly face from TV in the form of Damaris Hayman as the nurse. (Sadly she died on 3 June, 2021, aged 91. That she was unbilled lends further weight to my supposition that her scene was a last-minute addition after the rest of the film was complete.) @Richard Chatten

The Penthouse (1967)

Dir: Peter Collinson | Wri: Scott Forbes | Cast: Terence Morgan, Suzy Kendall, Tony Beckley, Norman Rodway | UK Thriller

British director Peter Collinson was probably best known for his comedy caper The Italian Job with its unlikely casting of Michael Caine, Noel Coward and Benny Hill. But before that he made TV outing The Penthouse which belongs to the extremely nasty genre of the home invasion film.

Two earlier examples, Leslie Stevens’ Private Property (1960) and Walter Grauman’s Lady in a Cage (1964) had already been denied circuit releases in Britain, and in 1967 The Penthouse was following close on the heels of Dutchman and The Incident, both located the same situation, this time in railway carriages.

Far and away the most frightening of these films was The Incident, starring Martin Sheen and Beau Bridges, a powerfully vicious thriller never to released in Britain, with the emotive tagline “hits like a switchblade knife”. Later films that have been structured around similar situations include A Clockwork Orange, Straw Dogs and Funny Games, while real life – alas – got in on the act during 1968-69 with the hideous murders of Ramon Novarro and Sharon Tate.

Pretty obviously based on a play (‘The Meter Man’ by C.Scott Forbes), and directed, for all it’s worth, by first-timer Peter Collinson with Gothic lighting by Arthur Lavis (and occasional strident intrusions by John Hawksworth’s score), The Penthouse draws strongly for its content on Private Property and for its ambiance and dialogue on Harold Pinter.

In reality, Tom (Tony Beckley) and Dick (Norman Rodway), the pair of gurning cretins who invade the adulterous couple’s luxury penthouse suite (£15,000 at 1967 prices we’re told!) would never talk so much or be so articulate; and both their bizarre behaviour and that of the girlfriend (Suzy Kendall) who loses her fear and then her inhibitions remarkably quickly after being plied with booze and marijuana, suggests that gritty realism is not exactly what the film’s makers were striving for.

The film becomes more unbelievable still when less that twenty minutes from the end the couple actually let Harry in, who proceeds to bring the two goons back into the apartment to continue their mind games. But since Harry is played by Martine Beswick at her most fabulous (which is saying something!) I can forgive the film a lot. Well, a bit. @Richard Chatten



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