West 11

Notting Hill, London West 11; summer is gone and the brightness and optimism of the swinging sixties is a dawn yet to break over the city, Joe Beckett spending his days in the coffee bars and his nights in the jazz bars, showing up late for work the next morning, deliberately having applied for unappealing employment in a men’s clothier to make it that much easier for him to walk out when he inevitably prompts another clash with his manager.

He goes to parties and sees the usual women; Georgia is a gossip, a divorcee whose young child lives with the father from whom she receives some financial support, but she is also kind and dependable, kinder than Joe deserves; ten years younger than Georgia, Isla already knows everyone on the scene, flirtatiously dancing, demanding attention and admiration from her suitors, teasing who she might go home with. Sometimes it has been Joe, and there was a time he used to care.

Based on Laura Del-Rivo’s 1961 novel The Furnished Room and adapted by Willis Hall and Keith Waterhouse who had previously collaborated to dramatise Waterhouse’s novel Billy Liar, West 11 was directed by Michael Winner and originally released in late 1963, a depiction of a generation who are strangers to the values of their conservative parents who were shaped by the hardship of the war and who have few prospects and nowhere to go save for the damp cellar clubs they have made their own.

The soundtrack composed by The Day the Earth Caught Fire‘s Stanley Black and prominently featuring Acker Bilk, dreamy yet melancholy, Alfred Lynch of Doctor Who’s Curse of Fenric is Joe, a pitiable man without direction or purpose who is too caught up in his own despondency to even want to improve himself, leaving him an easy target for Richard Dyce, played by Eric Portman, later one of The Prisoner‘s many Number Twos, who casually insinuates himself in to Joe’s circle of friends, easy with promises and tight with his cash.

Seeking a casual acquaintance to act as accomplice in the carefully planned murder of his wealthy spinster aunt to ensure both inheritance and a secure alibi, the fact that both actors were gay adds a subtext to Dyce’s oily determination to sway the younger man, while Yield to the Night’s Diana Dors is Georgia and Kathleen Breck made her debut as Ilsa who finds, to her own surprise and despite all that he has done to her, that she still cares for Joe, with supporting roles filled by Dune’s Francesca Annis, Barbarella’s David Hemmings, The Dæmons’ Damaris Hayman and the great Finlay Currie.

Shot in monochrome by The Ladykillers‘ Otto Heller, capturing the grime in the shadowed corners of Joe’s bedsit and the dreary grey mist above the London parks, West 11 has been overshadowed by the British cinema of later in the decade and Winner’s own resumé but has now been restored for StudioCanal’s Vintage Classics range, accompanied by a discussion from film historian Michael Sweet where he suggests that the themes and their depiction, “Bohemian and slightly sleazy,” were closer to European existentialism than what audiences of the time were perhaps accustomed to.

West 11 will be available on Blu-ray and DVD from StudioCanal from Monday 5th July



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