Sunday, 24 May 2015

East of Ipswich (1987)

A charming coming of age film, East of Ipswich was originally part of BBC Two’s feature film strand Screen Two and the semi-autobiographical tale was written by former Python Michael Palin, drawing on his own memories of dreary holidays in provincial grey coastal towns during the late 1950s.

The film beautifully captures that aspect of English eccentricity inherent in our seaside towns and our holidaymaking practices, by centring on 17-year-old Richard Burrill (Edward Rawle-Hicks) who reluctantly finds himself spending the summer holiday with his parents played by John Nettleton and Pat Heywood in a sleepy Suffolk coastal resort and a less than welcoming B&B run by Joan Sanderson's authoritarian landlady Miss Wilbraham.

Naturally our teenage hero finds himself quickly constrained by his parents attitude to holidaying and bored with the tedium of a town where nothing ever happens, but he's way too polite and well brought up to truly rebel. The closest he gets to rebellion is to listen to his rapidly burgeoning hormones, and a friendship develops with another teenage boy Edwin (John Wagland) who seems more confident when it comes to women and allows Richard the benefit of his knowledge and wisdom. The pair meet the attractive Julia (Oona Kirsch), a fellow teenager on holiday with her own uptight parents and a disruptive Dutch exchange-student  Anna (Penny Hinchley). Despite a mutual attraction between Richard and Julia, the shy teenager ultimately finds himself chaperoning the troublesome Anna who is well versed with the common after midnight and the local biker boys. Finally, fate intervenes when Julia's parents seek Richard out as a good, reliable sort and ask him to accompany her to the church ‘sausage sizzle’, but it doesn’t go quite according to plan after the teenagers bunk off to a local jazz club.

As I say, much of this is drawn from Palin's own personal experience; he met his wife Helen on a family holiday to just such a coastal resort. But he draws on his own imagination when it came to Richard's own experiences, claiming “I was rewriting my past the way I wished it had been." He has described East of Ipswich as the happiest and least complicated creative project he has ever been involved in, and this easygoing vibe filters through to the screen itself making the film a truly enjoyable, light and charming experience with some lovely performances specifically from Rawle-Hicks, who has a touch of a young Palin about him, Nettleton and Heywood as his staid yet likeable parents and Oona Kirsch and Pippa Hinchley as the two very different girls. There's also Janine Duvitski, Graham Crowden and Allan Cuthbertson also in the impressive cast. 

East of Ipswich is a rarity in Screen One and Screen Two drama in that it is available to buy on DVD, no doubt released to appease the fans of Palin and Monty Python, of which of course there are many.  

To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classic plays please sign the petition I started here

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