Sunday, 17 July 2016

Letter To Brezhnev (1985)

Call me a sentimental old northerner, but the opening to Letter to Brezhnev remains one of my favourite moments of celluloid. Whilst budgetary constraints mean that it may not be as epic as it clearly wants to be, it nevertheless understands that Liverpool is a British city to be mythologised; we see Peter Firth and Alfred Molina's Russian sailors on deck in the last stretches of the Irish Sea, excited to clap eyes on the wondrous Three Graces of Liverpool by the evening light. Accompanied by Alan Gill's (Teardrop Explodes, Dalek I Love You) soaring score, the camera sweeps across the remaining stretch of water to rise up across the city skyline.

It's the perfect love letter to the city. 

And overall, Chris Bernard's film, from a script by Frank Clarke (adapted from his own stage play), continues to be the almost perfect love letter to Liverpool. Alexandra Pigg and Margi Clarke (Frank's sister) star as two salt of the earth Kirkby girls, Elaine and Teresa - the former a dreamer and the latter a realist - who optimistically head out into Liverpool one night whereupon they meet Peter (Firth) and Sergei (Molina) on shore leave. 

Whilst the brassy Teresa enjoys a simple night of orgiastic pleasure with Sergei, Elaine finds something deeper with the more sensitive Firth. Like Cinderella at the stroke of midnight, come the next day the Russians have to reboard their ship and head back beyond the iron curtain, leaving Elaine heartbroken and lovesick, her only option to fix matters being the titular 'letter to Brezhnev'; a plea to be reunited with the man she loves.

It's a far from perfect film, it's rather naive and all too often it betrays its shoddy budget (Margi Clarke famously announced it was made for the equivalent of "the cocaine budget on Rambo") but it's heart is always in the right place. Its a film about daring to dream and having the courage to break out from the doldrums of Thatcher's Britain for love - even if that love just so happens to be in Soviet Russia. 

What helps Letter to Brezhnev is the vibrant, energetic and exuberant performances from the cast which belie the brittle nature of the characters they portray. It's a film blessed with tough, rough charm and perhaps an unexpected romcom sweetness that has proven to be deeply influential in the years that followed (that first episode of Gavin and Stacey anyone?) Margi Clarke was never better than she was here and Peter Firth and Alexandra Pigg make the most affecting of star-crossed lovers.


  1. You're a sentimental old northerner, but great comments on a film I love too - it was given away free once here when the papers where going through their free dvds phase - but I and my then partner loved it back in 1986 and it became our date movie. I'd like to see it again now, it would bring that era back perfectly.
    Margi was never better - she quickly became a bit too much in some roles (wasn't she banged up in jail with Deirdre in Corrie?) Firth and Molina certainly went on to bigger things. A film to cherish. (Another one is Michael Winner's THE SYSTEM from 1964, capturing that pre-swinging vibe perfectly in that seaside town (Weymouth) with Olly Reed leading his gang, including young David Hemmings who 2 years later would be the icon of the era in BLOWUP) - lots of great faces here too: Julia Foster, Barbara Ferris, marvellous Jane Merrow, Harry Andrews etc. I only mention it as it is getting some screenings this week on the Talking Pictures channel here, its Winner's best for me).

  2. Ooh ta for the tip re The System, I'll have to look out for that!

    Letter To Brezhnev was available on YouTube, I downloaded it onto disc from there ages ago, but it seems to have gone now. There is a version up there now, but it's not the greatest quality alas.

    Margi was indeed Deirdre's cellmate in Corrie and the character later returned someone's mum. The last thing I saw her in was a small role in Puppy Love, a rather weak sitcom on BBC4, but it wasn't so long back she was hosting quiz nights in Ma Egerton's pub in Liverpool. For me, this is her best film role, but her role as Queenie in the TV series Making Out is one to cherish

  3. Little known fact. The uncredited extra who was the 2nd person off the bus went on to become a bbc local tv reporter and still is. To spare her blushes I will not name her.

  4. My heart aches when I watch this magical film. I was 18 in 1985. When a watch it again, I am reminded what experience has now taught me - sweet fa.