British History Challenge 54-56 | Gandalf Pulls His Pants Down

The swinging sixties are here, but for us they aren’t so swinging. It’s an age of crime, scandal, sex and pirate radio. Still should be fun though!


General Opinion: An alright watch, but a bit tedious.

Review: This is rated as an 18 but don’t expect any gratuitous pornographic scenes of sex or anything similar, even though this is a film about the most notorious sex scandal in British political history. Granted, there are quite a lot of breasts in the film but if you really wanted to see women naked then go watch some porn. Despite being about a sex scandal this isn’t really about sex. It’s concerned more about the people involved and the implications of their actions than anything.

The film mainly centres around Stephen Ward (John Hurt), an orthodontist who shares a flat with showgirls Christine Keeler (Joanne Whalley) and then he takes her to a lewd party involving some of the upper classes (where it’s strangely hinted that a member of the royal family was involved.) It’s here she meets Minister for Defence John Profumo (Ian McKellan/Gandalf) and Russian naval atache Eugene Ivanov (???)… The story goes that she had a fling with both of them whilst at the same time being pimped out as a call girl by Ward (which through a series of events leads to the love triangle being exposed and the ‘Scandal’ of the films title being revealed.)

It does well to stick to the facts, depicting almost everything from Ward and Keelers first meeting, to Profumo’s denial in the commons, Lord Hailsham’s well known interview on live TV, the race in the swimming pool… No matter how silly it seems at times, most of this is actually what happened. They’ve even got the man in the mask in there. The only exception is the hint of the royal family’s involvement. Whilst it’s true that Prince Philip did have his picture sketched by Ward, I highly doubt he was involved in the dirty sex parties. Ward was a social climber. A lot of well known people were sketched by him or visited his osteopathy clinic. Most of them probably had nothing more to do with him than that.

This is a minor niggle though as John Hurt does a wonderful job of portraying Stephen Ward and he dances around the rest of the cast with glee. Ian McKellan (Gandalf!!!) makes a very convincing Profumo and Joanne Whalley is a dead ringer for Christine Keeler. It’s one of those films where they’ve really tried hard to get the casting right. They’ve looked at the real people and said: ‘Ok, who can we get that’ll do a good job?’ It’s rare, even in older films, for that to happen and it adds a gravitas and a realism to it. It makes the film watchable and somewhat entertaining.

And without them it would be nothing as whilst the film sticks to the facts and has a good cast it does drag a bit. It’s very slow and weighty and requires quite a bit of attention to work out what is actually going on. I think I did zone out at one point because after the first hour or so it becomes a bit tedious, especially as the story itself is left very simple and direct. It’s entertaining, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that its a film where not a lot happens and it’s not very memorable. There’s a lot of talking but very little in the way of actual meat on the bones.

Rating: 6.5/10

#55:The Krays

General Opinion: Not bad but there’s a lot missing…

Review: What amazes me is that they got two Kray lookalikes, from the East End, who are really brothers… AKA Gary and Martin Kemp. It helps to add a sense of chemistry and realism to the film which something like this desperately needs in order to work. Ok… they aren’t really twins, but if you didn’t know any different you’d be convinced they were. And as for Martin Kemp… Does he really look that evil or was it make-up? It’s the cold, soulless eyes that do it I think… They’re evil I tells ya… Eeeeeevillll!

This film isn’t half bad. In fact it’s mostly a gripping depiction of the terror and depravity of Britain’s most notorious gangster brothers. There are brutal scenes of torture, murder, gunfights, everything you would want from a gangster film. Only this isn’t like Scarface or The Untouchables… This is a BRITISH gangster film. (Ok… There are others like Lock, Stock etc…) But there are far fewer decent British ones than American ones, but this comes the closest to emulating those. In short… This is a bit like the Godfather, only with the Kemps instead of Al Pacino. This is far better than the Godfather though. The Godfather was slow and tedious whereas this is action packed, exciting and very, very British. Take for instance the scenes where the gang meet. If that were america they’d be smoking brandy and drinking cigars (?) whereas here it’s tea, lots and lots of tea. You don’t get much more British than that. Because of this as well, the film is more grounded than its American counterparts and it never feels weighed down by the subject matter. It runs with it and it runs fast and long.

There are many good parts to this film, the acting, the cinematography, the realism… But there is something that bugs me and it’s quite a serious fault all things considered. There’s an awful lot missing and as such the film tends to jump around rather confusingly. Take for instance their rise to power. You see them buy a pool hall after stabbing a man through the hand and in the next scene they’ve got loads of money and are notorious east end gangsters. No clue as to how that happened. Not a jot of explanation or anything. And the twins boxing career is alluded to, briefly, but never expanded upon. In fact you could be forgiven for thinking that it never happened. The same with the ending. We get the murders of Jack McVittie and George Cornell (in reality murdered a year apart… Unlike in the film where it happens on the same night.) Then it cuts to the twins, with police escorts, at their mother’s funeral. There’s none of how they got caught or their feud with the Richardson Gang… It just casually skips over all that, which is a shame because I think it would have been interesting to see.

An extra hour and a bit more care to put these things in and the film would have been much better. It’s still a good film, it’s just let down by the bits that are missing.

Review: 7.5/10

#56: The Boat that Rocked

General Opinion: Awesome doesn’t quite cut it…

Review: Now I’m not saying this because the film involves radio… But this film is awesome. It just is… I’ve seen reviews of this film which claims that it’s terrible and overlong and has no depth to it… Ok, so it might lag a bit in the middle and it might not exactly be the stuff of genius, but who cares when its such good fun? It’s not trying to be anything other than what it is. It’s not pretentious or overblown or anything those other reviewers were probably expecting it to be. It’s there to be enjoyed.

And enjoyable it certainly is. Whilst the actual storyline itself is fictional, most of the events, the music and the characters are based on reality. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s ‘The Count’ is based on a DJ called Emperor Rosko and there’s another guy who’s clearly meant to be based on Kenny Everett. Apparently Tony Blackburn and Dave Lee Travis are in there as well. Not sure where though. As for the events, there really was a wedding on board one of the ships, there IS a Marine Broadcasting offences act, one pirate ship really did sink and it really is that mad working in radio, really. The film does play loosely with the truth but unlike most history films it at least has a bit of dignity in that it warps them around a mostly fictional narrative- The story of ‘Radio Rock,’ a pirate vessel anchored in the north sea and the governments attempts to shut it down.

I’ll admit, some of the music is slightly anachronistic given the film is set in 1966/67, but it’s just sooo good. They’ve picked some really appropriate and brilliant stuff and I think had they limited the music to just the one year it wouldn’t have worked quite so well. As it is, you get a brilliant, if a little anachronistic soundtrack full of the likes of the Rolling Stones, The Turtles, The Who and the Kinks. What I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t matter if the song wasn’t released until 1968 or whenever, most people aren’t going to notice that kind of thing. I certainly didn’t notice.

You see, what other people complain about are things that don’t even matter in the grand scheme of things. The acting is good, especially from Bill Nighy and Rhys Ifans, the plot is kind of limited but fairly pacey (apart from in the middle) and its all very realistic. It looks like a real ship in the middle of the North Sea… Well, the exteriors were but the interiors were all done in a studio with hydraulics, but you wouldn’t believe it. It’s believable and that’s the key with a film like this. It’s a fictional story based AROUND real events. It doesn’t matter if a few of the minor details are wrong.  It’s not like Braveheart, which was supposedly historical truth and they completely made it up anyway. At least with this film they have the balls to admit that it’s fictional.

Overall, this is an awesome film, its not perfect but then again what film is? There are lesser films that get praised to high heaven whereas ones like this get unfairly blasted. It’s a good film… And i’m not just saying that because I’ve been on radio and I know what its like. This film captures perfectly the mood of the time, what it was like to work on a pirate radio station and most of all how much god damned fun it all is.

Rating: 9/10- Not perfect but still good.


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