Saturday, 28 March 2015

The Wind of Change (1961)

Another day, another Vernon Sewell B movie.

The Wind of Change was a very topical  film for 1961. It took its title from the famous "Wind of Change" speech given by British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in South Africa in February 1960, and tackles the issue of race and immigration to the UK via the attitudes of the disenchanted young Teddy Boy set around the Notting Hill district of London. As such it is heavily redolent of the 1958 race riots that occurred in that area and, despite being a B movie, can be  considered an important and historically and socially significant British film. Indeed, it could be argued that only a B movie, made from a small studio, could focus on this subject matter as it is clear the big studios would not touch such issues at the time.  

Johnny Briggs - who would go on to find fame as Mike Baldwin in Coronation Street - stars here as Frank, an out of work and frustrated, rebellious youth who lives at home with his push-over father (Donald Pleasence) his mother (Hilda Fenemore) and sister Josie played by Ann Lynn, the future Mrs Anthony Newley who would go on to star in Sewell's Strongroom which I also watched this week. Frank has a big chip on his shoulder regarding the immigration from the West Indies and Africa into the UK and London and believes the reason he is out of work is because black people are taking all the jobs.

After an evening spent in the local coffee bar (which includes a brief musical interlude that sees the punters all pick up a handily placed instrument and sits uneasily with the rest of the film) Frank and his gang of Teds, including a young David Hemmings, decide to take their anger out on a black man who dared to smile at a white waitress. When they later see a black boy walking a white girl home, they react violently and assault the couple, slashing the girl's face with a bicycle chain. The boy is so brutally beaten that he later dies from his injuries in hospital, whilst Frank is horrified to find that the injured girl is in fact his sister. As the police, headed up by the reliable, reassuring Glynn Houston - start their investigation, Frank's shocked family begin to challenges his racist views and question his involvement in gang culture.The gravity of  the situation causes Frank to reconsider his attitudes, and he decides to focus on finding a job and settling down.

I have to say that whilst the racist epithets easily spouted throughout this film (there's many n words and 'spades' within the script) are now shocking and no longer common place to hear, the opinions and attitudes of Frank are sadly still all too common today. Indeed much of The Wind In Change is still contemporary, with the desire to hate and blame a minority given a 'respectable' political outlet thanks to the appalling UKIP who believe immigration is the root of all our problems and apathy and not in fact the educational failure, high unemployment and the economic woes which still feature in a society stacked to keep the working class in a disadvantaged position.

The only real issue I had with Sewell's attempts to spark intelligent debate and conversation is perhaps the fact that black characters -  despite their importance to the subject matter - feature far too briefly, leaving white characters to present the case for them. This is therefore the least of the Sewell films I have watched this week, but hey, I know he made worse (Burke and Hare or The Blood Beast Terror anyone?)

Oh and nostalgia and retro film/TV lovers - as well as Briggs, Lynn and Hemmings keep your eyes out for Edna Doré (her husband, Alexander Doré, wrote the script) The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner's Topsy Jane , Angela Douglas and Only Fools and Horses' Granddad, Lennard Pearce in small supporting roles.

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