Being British, I love British films and I also love gangster movies; in the sense of fantasy the concept of the “gangster underworld” appeals to me; the idea of power, greed and anarchy, being feared by all, and the idea of getting anything you want by any means is something I think deep down a lot of people would aspire to be like, just in the fantasy sense of course, because committing crime and murder is wrong kids!! I have always been fascinated by the Krays and people like that, “The Krays” (1990) and “Goodfellas” (1990) are two of my favourite films regarding the themes of gangster culture and the crime genre. Therefore, through having a love for British and gangster films, “Brighton Rock” (2010) is definitely the perfect choice for me, culminating the two.
Firstly I am going to discuss the background of “Brighton Rock”. Initially “Brighton Rock” began as a novel written by Graham Greene back in 1938, depicted as a “murder, thriller” it was obviously set in the sea side town of Brighton during the 1930’s. The story is focused on the character of Pinkie Brown, an up and coming teenage gangster, he is a sociopath, the protagonist of the story as well as being the anti-hero. The novel was then adapted into a film in 1947, directed by Jon Boulting and starring Richard Attenborough as the main character. The film looked at the criminal activities of an underworld gang led by Pinkie evidently taken place in an inter-war Brighton. One of the main themes in both the novel and film is the question of morality in regards to murder. While the 1947 version was considered to be one of the most gripping examples of film noir, the most recent film adaptation directed by Rowan Joffe, in which I am going to review changed the era of the film to 1964, focusing on the conflict between the two subculture gangs of the 1960’s, the mods and rockers; this definitely works in terms of fitting in with themes of moral panics, youth and knife crime, which in many ways is still applicable to the issues we face in today’s day and age in relation to knife and gun crime amongst gang youths commonly in London and most cities.
During 1960’s Britain outbreaks of violence would take place between the gangs particularly in a number of seaside resorts including Brighton during the Whitsun of 1964. Many were arrested and youths were hospitalised due to knife wounds. The difference in appearance between the gangs consisted of the rockers riding motorcycles, wearing leather jackets, the mods which Pinkie’s (played by Sam Riley) character represented in the film, tended to wear suits and rode scooters. In terms of music the rockers were distinguished from the mods by listening to 1950’s rock n’ roll such as Elvis Presley, whereas the mods listened to 1960’s soul, SKA and r n’ b as well as British groups like The Kinks and The Who. The conflict between these two gangs resulted in the sociologist Stanley Cohen to coin the term “moral panic” in order to describe the going on’s. The British media had depicted the conflict extremely negatively and placed it within the status of deviant behaviour, causing fear among the British public. Derogatory terms were given to the gangs, they were labelled as “louts” and “vermin”. Papers reported them to be an “internal enemy” within the UK and disrespecting law and order. The media hysteria blew the whole conflict into bigger proportions, similarly as they do today, you cannot wear a hoodie without being stereotyped as a “thug” and for the mods and rockers in was the same back then. It has been said that the media would go as far as faking interviews with “mods” and “rockers” and try and make something out of incidents that had no relation to mod/rocker crime whatsoever. Once the media no longer had any actual mod/rocker violence to report about they resorted to associating any controversial social issue such as contraception, teenage pregnancy, any sort of violence and drugs to them…
…and there’s my history lesson for the review. I now want to focus on the recent film adaptation in which if I had to describe it in a couple of words I would use “intense” and “gripping”. I have a vague recollection of the 1947 version therefore watching “Brighton Rock” (2010) was like watching something fresh and new. As I have previously stated I think the change in era it is set in works and most definitely updates the story to an extent. Pinkie Brown remains to be a very complex character, he is young and ambitious, he aspires to be powerful and feared, the perfect comment on the fear of youth, Sam Riley gives a terrifying and powerful performance. I liked how the protagonist of the piece is also the villain, its not very common in films and for me personally I didn’t want to relate to his character, his screen presence made me feel uncomfortable and on edge much like the behaviour of the character of his girlfriend Rose (played by Andrea Riseborough), she is fearful and timid but is evidently attracted to him and through hope and naivety she genuinely believes he loves and cares for her, resulting in her disregarding his criminal behaviour; without revealing too much I thought the twist at the ending where she plays his record was both sad and clever from an audience perspective’; the scene made me wonder if its sometimes better to live in delusion rather than know the truth, no matter how brutal it might be. I thought the film had elements of a Shakespearean tragedy, much like “Romeo and Juliet”, there’s feuding gangs and a twisted love story in the midst of it, there was also elements of “Bonnie and Clyde”, we see hints that Rose would go to any lengths even threaten people who care about her e.g. Ida (played by Helen Mirren); perhaps the prospect of being with Pinkie gives her a sense of escapism and purpose, more than it would by working in a tea room. The shots of Brighton’s coast and the cliffs were breathtaking, making the climax of the film much more spectacular and haunting.
Helen Mirren’s character Ida is probably the most likeable character in the film, she is headstrong and fearless but I did find it hard to believe at times that she would go up against someone as dangerous as Pinkie, her character wants revenge for the murder of her lover, then again her character is a comment on feminism and female empowerment and its definitely nice to see a woman emerge as the hero of the piece. Admittedly, the scene in which Ida’s lover Hale (played by Sean Harris) is murdered is incredibly intense, I think what makes it all the more brutal and frightening is the fact it is committed in broad daylight, beneath the pier, with that there’s the contrast of viewing Brighton as a nice family day out by the seaside while there’s the dark stir of the underworld going on unknowingly, the scene happens close to the beginning of the film, with its build up and slow pace it most definitely sets the uncomfortable, dark tone for the rest of the film.
I really enjoyed this update of “Brighton Rock”, I liked how they had modernised the story and added in the mods and rockers as part of the setting, giving an interesting spin on the original. I have never actually been to Brighton but I think through the cinematography the town itself was portrayed beautifully and I would definitely want to visit. The film consisted of strong performance especially from Sam Riley and Helen Mirren and I enjoyed the various cameos from some terrific British actors e.g. John Hurt, Andy Serkis and Steve Evets. Overall, the film gripped me from start to finish and the sinister portrayal of Pinkie will remain with me for a long time.
Hayley Alice Roberts.