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The Bridge Series 4 - Saga is back......................(no spoilers!)

“Echo stutters across a room, trembling noises that come too soon…” Yes, with that haunting theme song from the Choir of Young Believers, you know that The Bridge is back for Season 4.

I was fortunate enough to get tickets to see a preview of the opening episode of Series 4 (don’t worry –there are no spoilers here!) at the BFI in London, and not just that, the screening was followed by an onstage interview with Q&A of Saga herself (the luminous Sofia Helin), her side kick Henrik (Thure Lindhardt), together with creator Hans Rosenfeldt and the series lead writer Camilla Ahlgren- that is one definition of Heaven!

So to Series 4. I will not say much except to say that the series is shown on BBC2 (yes, promoted from BBC 4) in May over 8, rather than 10 episodes. It opens two years on from Series 3, where fans will recall Saga was being investigated over the death of her mother, whilst she joined Henrik to find his lost twin daughters.

As with all series of The Bridge, it opens with a shocking crime and the duo themes that we will be following across all 8 episodes are very real and current ones –in Sweden and Denmark but also here in the UK: Identity & refugees. Who for example is Saga were she not a detective? , is Henrik anyone if he cannot find his daughters and across the real Oresund Bridge you now have to show ID to travel across the countries because of the open borders that Sweden now have and the issue surrounding the refugee crisis.

I will only say that if episode 1 is any indication of the rest of the series, then we and the other 1.5 million UK viewers who cannot do without our Saga fix each Saturday night are in for a wonderful treat, so strap yourselves in!

 The onstage interview afterwards with the cast and creative team was excellent and Sofia Helin and Thure Lindhardt in particular were in splendid form. Some very interesting things flowed from their interview by Daily Telegraph writer Benji Wilson and we learnt a few things:

  • The series is written and made for the Swedish and Danish audience despite the very welcome success in the UK and the writers always ensure that a real current topic is featured to reflect the times and the culture that they live in;
  • Sofia Helin is not allowed to keep her trademark leather trousers or her 1977 Porsche 911S that she drives around Malmo;
  • Both Helin and Lindhardt chose The Crown as the British TV that they most admire (“you don’t need a Danish king do you? Shouted out Lindhardt!)

The level of fangirl and fanboy interest in The Bridge came through at the Q&A afterwards with some questioning why certain Danish swear words are translated incorrectly on the English subtitles and one person insisted that the series is in effect a fairy tale and that Saga is really the Ice Queen- which totally bemused the actual creator and lead writer of the show, who didn’t really know what he was going on about.

What did come through though was the love that audiences have for the series, the plots and especially the fondness for the unique TV character that is Saga Noren.

The Knack -perhaps not worth knowing?

My latest sojourn to London’s South Bank was to see with a fellow cineaste was to the National Film Theatre to see something from their Woodfall Films’ season. Woodfall was a British production company that effectively created the British New Wave explosion of gritty, realistic dramas in the 1960s like Saturday Night & Sunday Morning, A Taste of Honey and Kes.

The only film in the season that had any real appeal was The Knack…and how to get it (1965). It was directed by Richard Lester and starred a very young (23) Michael Crawford, Rita Tushingham (who seems to have been in every British film in the 1960’s), Ray Brooks and a new name to me Donal Donnelly.

The film amazingly won the main film prize at Cannes at the time and was named the Outstanding Comedy for 1966 (when it was released), but I think it fair to say that The Knack has not aged well. It is a time capsule of a movie and centres round the activities (or non-activities in the case of Michael Crawford’s character) of super stud Tolen (Ray Brooks) and his menagerie of very willing female lovers –including amongst them Jane Birkin, Jacqueline Bissett, and Charlotte Rampling. Tolen shares a very art deco house with timid schoolteacher Colin (Michael Crawford) who objects to the amount of womanising that his house mate gets up to– mainly because he has no experience of girls. Between them come two interlopers – the obligatory girl from the north (Tushingham) and a new tenant (Donnelly).

Based on a play by Ann Jellicoe, the film has two parts to it. The first 30-40 minutes where Richard Lester channels the Beatles films he directed (A Hard Day’s Night) with a lighter touch and a sense of ‘Swinging London’. He adds in a Greek Chorus of London characters telling you what was wrong with young people and this is where the film flows as Crawford’s character tries to learn ‘The Knack’ on how to get a girl. Brooks’ character is a Rocker turned Mod who appears to have an amazing effect on every blonde or brunette in the capital –although Brooks’ tips would be seen differently from the space of 50+ years.

His observations to Crawford are that women want to be dominated and that “girls only get raped who want to be raped”. Richard Lester uses the second half of the film to centre on the rape issue when Brooks tries it on with Rita Tushingham, leading to her running away claiming to all and sundry that she has been raped (she hasn’t). The film makes a lot of fun of the rape issue (in one scene Tushingham goes up to a housewife and tells her she has been raped and her response is “not today thank you!”- I suspect a younger, more feminist audience would struggle understanding this attempt at 1960’s humour.

In the end I think I was disappointed with The Knack. It had its good moments when it focussed on the London of the middle 1960’s, and you can see where Crawford got a lot of his Frank Spencer moments in the stunts that he performs with a lot of exuberance, but its last 30-40 minutes waned and it got bogged down on who was going to bed the Tushingham character first.

Rita Tushingham was as always excellent but she was very typecast as the plain girl from the north trying to find swinging London and after her role in Dr Zhivago (which she made in the same year as The Knack, her roles in films dried up.

Unlike Michael Crawford, Ray Brooks’ later career stumbled and probably peaked after he starred in Ken Loach’s Cathy Come Home (1966) and one of his later film appearances was in Carry on Abroad (1972). He is perhaps better known now for his TV work in series such as Big Deal (1984-86), Growing Pains (1992), voicing Mr Benn for Children’s TV, and EastEnders (2005-2007).

Director Richard Lester although an American, based himself largely in the UK and hit the big time when he directed The Beatles’ films including Help (the same year as The Knack) before he made a number of blockbuster movies such as Juggernaut (1974), The Three (& Four) Musketeers (1973-1974) and co-directed Superman II (1978). Lester effectively retired after his close friend Roy Kinnear tragically died in a horsing accident whilst Lester directed him when making The Return of the Musketeers (1988).

'My Generation'- and its FAB,man!

Premiered at the London Film Festival in 2017 My Generation opened to a great reception and I and my brother were fortunate to attend its premiere in Chelsea (where else for a 1960’s shindig?) and together with an associate we saw it again at the splendid (but very overpriced) Picturehouse Central in London’s Piccadilly on its general release this month.

Second viewing around I was still very impressed by the Michael Caine fronted documentary, aided by a suitably drole script by Likely Lads & Porridge creators Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. The title gives the game away about what the movie is about –it is about Caine’s, Twiggy’s, Mary Quant’s, Lulu’s, Joan Collin’s and others 1960’s- especially ‘swinging London’.

Michael Caine fronts and narrates the 85 minute documentary and the main argument he talks about is how the 1960’s were the first working class generation to do things their own way- it is a fair point and he is very good when talking about the dullness of the austere and rationing Britain you would have found post war but of course every generation argues that the existing one is boring and that you need to rebel and find your own voice.

But I don’t think we should take My Generation too seriously- its sheer pleasure is in the extraordinary range of footage that director David Batty has unearthed and presented for us of that youthful generation.

The film is at its best when it shows original footage of what one generation thought about the other – a variety of middle aged (and older) people stopped in the streets to ask what they thought about youngsters wearing long hair, wearing flowery shirts/blouses and not being able to tell the difference between men and women –something my parent’s generation frequently did (watch any classic episode of Steptoe & Son for the proof: Albert: “you can’t tell the boys from girls these days”, Harold: “I can and I’ve not made a mistake yet, mate!”).

To the current (2018’s) generation, they would probably struggle with some of the material and values on show. For example there is next to no diversity shown and the MeToo# community would be horrified to hear Michael Caine’s mother say about girls in miniskirts that “If it’s not for sale why put it in the shop window?”. The film is not as good about what the 1960’s revolution led to – the murder of Sharon Tate in the USA, addiction to drugs and how much of a wasted generation did we have?

That said, it made a change for a film about the 1960’s not to keep banging on about Vietnam or Civil Rights (as important to the decade as they both were) but rather to celebrate the time –even if it was remarkably short – when Britain was the swinging place to be and the music chosen is FAB!

Beryl and The Croucher


The latest Talking Pictures TV film worth a viewing is the 1949 effort No Way Back. It falls into the ‘Spiv’ crime thriller category of pictures that were made just after WWII, but this one has something a little extra in it.

‘Starring’ (and co-written by) Terence De Marney and produced by his brother Derrick, it is set in the world of the London boxing ring where De Marney as an over the hill veteran boxer known as ‘The Croucher’. The pugilist after too many fights ends up having to retire due to his bad eye and barely has he told his girlfriend (Shirley Quentin) the bad news, when she in a heart breath has dropped him-leaving him without a career or a girl.

The Croucher easily falls into the gutter drinking in bars until almost by accident he comes into contact with the real Star of the film –the excellent Eleanor Summerfield as his first love (Beryl). Beryl like The Croucher has fallen into bad ways- she is effectively small time hustler Joe Sleet’s (Jack Raine) moll.

Before long The Croucher and Beryl rekindle their friendship and love for each other and there seems hope for the two until Sleet decides to involve The Croucher in a botched jewellery raid. Sleet, Beryl and The Croucher end up going on the run and leaving our twosome to decide whether to fight on or go down in a blaze of glory.

In a lot of ways, No Way Back has echoes of Marty (1955) and Rocky (1976) that would follow in the decades to come. Two people who Life has not dealt any kind cards to and who both fall into bad ways, but want to improve themselves if they can.

De Marney comes over as a pretty wooden actor but he did make out for himself a fruitful career in Hollywood in the 1950s & 1960’s in TV fare such as Bonanza and Wagon Train, before ending his career in familiar UK offerings such as Dr Who and Z Cars before an untimely and accidental death on the tube.

Summerfield though is the real reason to watch No Way Back- she makes Beryl and The Croucher an appealing couple and you do root for them because of her. She was always a very accomplished actress and always worth watching in films such as Dentist in the Chair, Petticoat Pirates and The Watcher in the Woods. She did some fine work in the theatre too and a regular home for her was the ‘Players Theatre’ at London’s Charing Cross. She married The Good Old Day’s popular and verbose host Lionel Sachs.

So, No Way Back is a decent way to spend an afternoon, to see London as was in the post war years and to see Eleanor Summerfield at the top of her game.