A Christmas Carol (Moira Armstrong, 1977)

Sir Michael Hordern as Scrooge
Sir Michael Hordern as Scrooge

I haven’t had a chance to write anything new today, but this is a posting  which I wrote for my Costume Drama Reviews blog (which I’m not currently updating, although I may return to it if time allows), a couple of years ago, about the 1977 BBC version of A Christmas Carol starring Sir Michael Hordern as Scrooge and John Le Mesurier, best-known as Sergeant Wilson in the much-loved comedy series Dad’s Army, as Marley. I think this is only available on a Dutch DVD or as part of the Charles Dickens BBC Collection.

This is a very small-scale version, packed into just an hour, but I liked it very much – I grew up in the 1970s, and often enjoy adaptations made then. Director Moira Armstrong has made a number of other costume dramas, including some episodes of Lark Rise to Candleford. This short film has a feel of the original illustrations, and also I think all the dialogue in Elaine Morgan’s script is taken from Dickens’ original words. Sir Michael had earlier played Marley in the famous Alastair Sim version (Scrooge, 1951).  I get the feeling Sir Michael has great fun as Scrooge, speaking his most outrageous lines in the early scenes with a gleeful wit, and then also making his gradual transformation believable. Le Mesurier doesn’t have very much screen time but his vagueness works well for a ghost, and the special effects are good for the period, I’d say.

John Le Mesurier as Marley
John Le Mesurier as Marley

There is a fine support cast – June Brown, famous as Dot in EastEnders, has a chilling cameo as Mrs Dilber, the horrible woman who steals the shirt from Scrooge’s corpse in his vision of the future, while others to watch out for include John Salthouse as the young Scrooge, Zoe Wanamaker as Scrooge’s sweetheart Belle, Bernard Lee as the Ghost of Christmas Present, Tracey Childs, who starred in a BBC version of Sense and Sensibility, as Scrooge’s sister, Fan, and Zelah Clarke, who later starred in a version of Jane Eyre, as Martha Cratchit.  I’d recommend this to anyone who gets a chance to watch it.

The Mackintosh Man (1973)

This is a second contribution to the John Huston blogathon currently running at Adam Zanzie’s Icebox Movies site.

From the title of this John Huston movie, The Mackintosh Man, I was half-expecting to see star Paul Newman – oddly cast as a British secret agent – dressed in a Bogart-style raincoat and wandering through grey, damp streets. However, as soon as I saw the film’s glorious Technicolor sunshine, I realised the title had nothing to do with raincoats.

In fact the film’s title is drawn from the name of Newman’s boss in the film, played by Harry Andrews – and the film itself is a lavishly-produced 1970s thriller moving from London to Ireland to Malta. (For a fan of  The Maltese Falcon, it’s nice to know that Huston actually made a film in Malta!) I’ve seen some reviews suggest that this movie is Huston’s homage to Hitchcock, and I can see that there are some similarities, with the puzzling plot and the casting of Dominique Sanda as the enigmatic “ice blonde” heroine, “Mrs Smith” – but for me the tension never really builds up to Hitchcock levels.

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Brief Encounter (1974)

I was slightly surprised when I heard there had been a Brief Encounter  remake, because the 1940s original (which I reviewed here recently) is such a masterpiece. (The 1990s movie Falling in Love, which I’ve also seen recently and like very much, isn’t really a remake, but a new film loosely inspired by the story.) However, having watched the version from 1974, a TV movie which stars Sophia Loren and Richard Burton, I now feel it is a tribute to the earlier movie – and a re-imagining of what it would be like if a couple faced the same dilemma in the 1970s.

briefencounterburtonThis is not a classic which will endure and endlessly fascinate as the Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard film has done. But, for all that, I think it is an interesting, if flawed, movie, in its own right, and deserves better than to be dismissed out of hand.

Director Alan Bridges has also made many TV costume dramas, including BBC adaptations of classics dating back to the 1960s, and at least  two movie period dramas which I loved, The Return of the Soldier, based on the Rebecca West novel, and The Shooting Party, from Isabel Colegate’s novel, so he does have a real love for material which looks back to the past.  I don’t know much about John Bowen,  the scriptwriter who has heavily reworked Coward’s plot and words,  but he did write a number of TV plays and adaptations.

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