Thursday, 20 April 2017
Serious Charge (1959)
Serious Charge (also known as, amongst other things, A Touch of Hell) is a 1959 feature from director Terence Young that was shot in the new town of Stevenage, doubling as the fictional town of Bellington. The plot sees the residents of the town welcome its new vicar (Anthony Quayle) with open arms until a young delinquent (Andrew Ray, the little boy from The Yellow Balloon all grown up) spreads malicious gossip that turns everyone against him.
Serious Charge is perhaps best known for being the film that provided Cliff Richard with his cinematic debut. Britain's answer to Elvis Presley (as he was then known) takes a minor role as the kid brother of Ray's character, who is saved from a life of crime by Quayle's vicar, and gets to sing snatches of three numbers, including his future number 1 hit, Living Doll. Overall however, he's pretty superfluous to the film and simply serves to add teddy boy colour to the coffee bar scenes which also feature an uncredited Jess Conrad and Philip Lowrie, who would go on to play Dennis Tanner in Coronation Street the following year.
The real meat of the film lies in the vendetta the dangerous and vindictive Ray has against Quayle. When the latter discovers that the boy had impregnated a young girl who later dies, he tries to get him to face the consequences and atone for his behaviour, however Ray pulls a cruel trick that sees him claim the vicar has tried to 'interfere' with him - a timely frame-up that relies on the staged aftermath being witnessed by Sarah Churchill's character Hester, who has previously had her romantic overtures towards Quayle gently rejected. As the old adage has it, 'hell hath no fury like a woman scorned', and pretty soon the whole town is believing the established Hester's word against the previously popular new clergyman.
A film from several decades ago handling what is such a topical theme in today's terms is one that automatically makes you sit up and pay attention, but unfortunately Serious Charge takes a long time to actually get there and the first forty minutes are something of a chore, being a mix of polite drawing room conversation between the older members of the cast and painfully dated sequences featuring the 'hip' teenagers accompanied by Cliff's singing. When the plot does kick in though, the film delivers something that is quite watchable as Quayle's dignified man of the cloth has to turn the other cheek amidst the evil gossip surrounding him.
If I hadn't known this film was shot in Stevenage I doubt I'd have been able to guess, as the vast majority of the action takes place in the old town, giving the film much more of a village feel than a new town feel, despite the occasional reference to new towns and the growing urban patch that the church must attempt to reach within the script. Even the town's high street, which features heavily, is barely recognisable given the passage of time. It's a world away from the town as depicted in Boston Kickout some thirty five years later, which is more in keeping with my own experience of the place.
You can watch it here