A Kid for Two Farthings

London, 1955, a grey morning over Trafalgar Square as the pigeons gather, but by the time the markets of the East End are bustling the sun is fully risen above the skyline, a cacophony of voices, sounds and music as young Joe wanders the streets, his mother Joanna working in Abram Kandinsky’s tailor shop alongside bodybuilder Sam, his father working abroad in South Africa, a foreign land which exists only in Joe’s imagination.

Told the story of the unicorn by Kandinsky, how with its single horn it can grant a wish, when he finds a homeless man walking with a young goat with one single twisted horn Joe believes it to be a unicorn, begging to have it for what little change he has in his pocket so that he can help the people around him, a new steam press for Kandinsky, for Sam to win his wrestling match and buy a proper engagement ring for his fiancée Sonia, and for his long-absent father to come home.

Adapted by Wolf Mankowitz from his 1953 novel of the same name, A Kid for Two Farthings was directed by The Third Man’s Carol Reed, his first feature made in colour, starring Brief Encounter’s Celia Johnson as Joanna, stoic in her sadness, Yield to the Night’s Diana Dors as Sonia, an established entertainer now demonstrating she could also act, Journey into Space‘s David Kossoff as Kandinsky and former wrestler Joe Robinson as Sam, chaste in his love for Sonia even as she suggests bedroom furniture and he surrounds himself by pin-ups of semi-naked men.

A working-class fantasy, the setting is lively and multicultural, a contrast to the American films of the fifties where invariably white teenagers cruised to the sock hop, fizzing with energy but lacking focus as it juggles the myriad characters who cling on to slim hope in the face of suffering and loss, built around Jonathan Ashmore’s Joe who is intelligent but naïve, increasingly insufferable in his determination to ascribe every happenstance to a unicorn-mediated miracle.

With Quatermass II’s Vera Day the scheming Mimi and Devil Girl from Mars’ Joseph Tomelty the vagrant who first owns the goat, A Kid for Two Farthings is noble poverty sanitised for a post-war audience and made palatable by creating a sneering pantomime villain, Primo Carnera’s rival wrestler Python Macklin, with even the normally enjoyable Sid James grating as a pushy under-the-table dealer of cut-price jewellery, and there is a sense that had it been made in monochrome it might have carried the harder edge of honesty.

Restored in 4K for StudioCanal’s Vintage Classics collection, their new edition of A Kid for Two Farthings carries a video essay by Ella Taylor, a new interview with Jonathan Ashmore, now a distinguished physicist, archive interviews with Vera Day and Joe Robinson and a restoration of the Academy Award-winning short film The Bespoke Overcoat, also written by Wolf Mankowitz and starring David Kossoff.

A Kid for Two Farthings will be available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download from StudioCanal from Monday 26th February



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