Saturday, 14 February 2015
Up The Junction (1968)
It was probably the ten million viewers who watched Ken Loach's Wednesday Play adaptation of Nell Dunn's novel Up The Junction in 1965 (reviewed here) that convinced Paramount of the potential for success of a big screen version, released three years later. With Loach uninterested in repeating himself, future Italian Job director Peter Collinson took on the directing duties and returned to the original book to develop a more faithful tale of a Chelsea girl who heads South of the river to Battersea to experience real life.
Collinson's direction is suitably assured and, combined with the cinematography of Arthur Lavis and Tony Spratling, gives the film that wonderful 60s technicolour look that I always associate with the texture of Ladybird book illustrations; everything is so warm and bright. Naturally this fits the more idealised, romantic and lyrical stance the film has towards the working class lives around Clapham Junction than Loach's TV play had - which had concentrated more on the authentic with a documentary style approach - and this is also helped immeasurably by hazy, dreamy like soundtrack by Manfred Mann and Mike Hugg. However, the impact the play had is severely diminished for the big screen and the controversies surrounding the abortion scene that saw Loach's piece play a part in the eventual reform are noticeably absent here.
Equally whilst the film contains much of Dunn's original dialogue previously heard in The Wednesday Play adaptation, the film chooses to showcase some scenes in a completely different and sometimes more effective light; I was especially struck by the scene in which Rube starts to cut at the sleeves and neckline of Shelagh's sparkly top during a break at work. In the TV version this is a somewhat superfluous scene, neither here nor there, that perhaps shows the girls snatching any opportunity to let their hair down. Here however, Collinson chooses to depict it as a previously unseen cruel streak in Rube; she is shown to tease and effectively bully Shelagh in her actions and the close up's he affords actress Sandra Williams' face, eager for acceptance but hesitant and unsure of Rube's forceful actions, is quite heartbreaking. It's a scene that shows Collinson's trait and desire for always finding grit in the oyster, or depicting the harshness of the human condition, which many armchair psychiatrist movie buffs believe points to his own upbringing in children's homes.
What the film does share with the TV version is some cast members, such as The Italian Job's Michael Standing and the roly poly Jessie Robins (far right above, one down from a young Susan George), however they are portraying different roles to the ones they had previously played. The casting is a significant coup to Collinson's film and he elicits great performances from all concerned even though they are clearly not as naturalistic as those Loach coaxed from the likes of Carol White etc. Suzy Kendall plays the rich girl slumming it very well and is ably supported by her leading man, the young Dennis Waterman, has her bit of rough. There's is a rocky relationship coming towards one another from different conflicting angles; she loathes her money and privilege and wants to be 'normal' and 'ordinary' whilst he despairs of the slums he has spent his life in and the lack of opportunities they afford him and wants more than anything to break out and be 'someone'. But for me it's perhaps the young Maureen Lipman (looking not unlike a healthy Amy Winehouse) and the glorious Adrienne Posta who steal the film as sisters Sylvie and Rube, showing great flair for both the dramatic and the comedic that the material overall requires.
Oh and look out for the billboard poster seen fleetingly opposite Alfie Bass' junkstore. It's for Collinson's previous movie (also starring Suzy Kendall) The Penthouse. Cheeky!