Donald Davie described Larkin’s poetry as a ‘poetry of lowered sights and patiently diminished expectations.’ By setting his version of Graham Greene’s novel in the summer of 1964, Rowan Joffe sets the film at a moment when society was moving between that lowered vision, and the newer world of the ‘swinging sixties’. Thus, Joffe pitches the film at a point where the dynamic of the family was changing but was still stifling. Sam Riley’s Pinkie ‘pays’ Rose’s (Andrea Riseborough) father for his daughter’s hand in marriage. When Pinkie asks Rose, ‘Why are you doing this?’ her simple reply is ‘To get away.’ Pinkie seems to have no family attachments at all, other than the gang that has nurtured him. And through this film, Pinkie becomes more and more alone. The film’s battling mods and rockers are the British teenager starting to make their presence felt. The pill is starting to become available, but so, still, is the death penalty.
Joffe has a eye for the exquisite details of that time: the bakelite public phones in their red steel boxes; the plaster model of a little boy with a calliper and charity box, that stood in nearly every shop or café; trilbies for the men and headscarves for the women. The film is also beautifully filmed; every frame wonderfully composed, both close ups of the faces, but also long shots around Brighton and the Downs. Brighton Pier looms through all of this like a magnificent Gothic cathedral. And the Catholicism of the film, too, is headily exotic; Pinkie calls them ‘Romans’ rather than ‘Catholics’. Sometimes, however, this all seems slightly overwrought, over cooked, and Joffe can’t resist the temptation of reinforcing any moment of drama with swelling and swollen music.
This is a different film to the Boulting brothers’ version of 1947; inevitably so. However, few could replace Richard Attenborough as the demonic angel, Pinkie. Attenborough’s translucent beauty creates an exquisite pitch to Greene’s Catholic sense of betray and damnation. Sam Riley’s razored jaw-line clenches and unclenches and he certain conveys the solipsism of the sociopath; but lacks Attenborough’s terrifying evil that asks his Rose to make the final sacrifice that will inevitably lead to damnation.
It has been said that this is Andrea Riseborough’s film. In the 1947 film, Carol Marsh’s Rose, was somewhat ‘wan and palely loitering’, whereas Riseborough has a presence and inner conviction that matches that of Riley’s Pinkie. Riseborough totters around in high-heels, peering out at the world from beneath her unkempt fringe with pale wondering eyes. Hers is a fragile beauty that the trajectory of the film almost crushes. And the cream of British acting supports, particularly Helen Mirren as Rose’s tea-shop owning boss, who does actually seem to know what makes these young people tick.
The above reservations notwithstanding, Joffe’s film is undoubtedly wonderful; gripping and emotionally harrowing.