Monday, 28 January 2013

I Start Counting (1969)

Remember the photo of Jenny Agutter I posted yesterday? Well that was from the film I Start Counting, which I'm going to talk about now. See? Everything is carefully planned here! 

It's a largely forgotten movie from the late 1960s which is a shame. Even more of a shame is the fact that it seems to have been wilfully forgotten in some quarters because its plot of a fourteen year old schoolgirl's sexual awakening is deemed moderately controversial, perhaps largely because the character is played by Jenny Agutter who was still only sixteen/seventeen at the time. 

To be fair, I think we're living in a cotton wool society if we can't accept that most fourteen year olds are discovering their sexuality. In fact, I would say most fourteen year olds today have probably already discovered and experimented. I Start Counting does not deserve the controversy it has garnered as it's all rather winsomely handled and, unlike Baby Love, (which I blogged about on Saturday, see? I tod you nothing is left to chance here!) the sexual awakening Agutter experiences isn't used to manipulate or for sordid salacious effect (though admittedly, the publicity photoshoot, an example above, does seem to veer towards that aspect, but I stress the film does not) In fact it's a very naive, innocent and foolishly romantic burgeoning sexuality which sees her devote all her feelings to her 32 year old step brother played by Bryan Marshall. 

It's an intriguing film that plays out at a pleasing pace suggestive of a half waking dream, helped enormously by the soft textured cinematography employed (though to be honest, that may have just been the rather washed out print I saw) and the flimsy fragile theme sung by Lindsay Moore. It's well directed by David Greene from a novel by Audrey Erskine Lindop. Jenny Agutter plays the central character of Wynne with a great wistful air and she's helped enormously by Clare Sutcliffe as her more earthy friend Corrinne, who provides some good comedy. Their relationship as two schoolgirl friends is utterly believable and completely timeless. There's a pleasing and understated Alice In Wonderland motif that the film seems to want to draw comparison with itself to the classic literature, being that they both focus on a girl on the cusp from childhood to maturity. Naturally, with Wynne's sexual awakening also comes maturity and the facing up to and discovering of the harsh realities of life, a million miles away from Wynne's romantic daydreaming. 

The film's crux is that Wynne as well as secretly harbouring desires for her stepbrother, also suspects him of being responsible for several recent murders of young girls in the town, so she sets out to surreptitiously investigate and follow him to find out the truth. It's the kind of plot that would still be perfectly serviceable in an ITV1 drama these days, albeit with significantly less charm than here, and of course is totally dependant on anyone having the balls to address a fourteen year old having sexual urges for her 32 year old stepbrother.

The film was shot on location in the new town of Bracknell, Herts. I'm no fan of new towns as previous posts here and personal experience will prove, but it's interesting to note that this film depicts one pretty much as the town planners originally considered them; clinically white (Agutter's adopted family live in a completely white modern build home, stark contrast to the cottage she continuously runs away to, earmarked for demolition) ultra clean and almost complete that has the ambition and desire to be a future idyll. It's a world away from how Bracknell was depicted just three years later in Sidney Lumet's excellent The Offence (again, previously blogged about) a failed crumbling and empty wasteland with no community spirit. Of course both films have their own agenda when depicting the town, and as much as The Offence needs a setting that mirrors the festering wound that is Sean Connery's character's damaged psyche, I Start Counting is a film that possibly needs to paint its environs as progressive, to look to the future as much as Wynne's oncoming adulthood. Indeed even the murders that have occurred in the course of film are said to happen in or around the Common, where the old houses are. Also of note is that Wynne's own former home was the scene of a tragedy which she has flashbacks too. The future, the new town, is a better place.

Oh and there's also a brief appearance from Bruce Robinson's old pal Michael Feast as the token pill popping hippy (not a million miles from his part in Private Road) and Agutter gets a delightfully charming little drunk scene.


  1. Nice piece (of writing I mean, not Jenny.) Didn't know of this one at all - must seek it out pronto.

  2. Very nice to see you in the blogging world and over here again Matthew!

    Yes, it's a rather good film which is out there via some reputable sources. Stojo being one. Hope you enjoy it, glad I haven't given too much away!