Richard Attenborough Double Bill

So I returned home from holiday to the sad news about Richard Attenborough's death. Naturally, most articles since have paid due tribute to his work as director on epics such as Gandhi and A Bridge Too Far, and for his avuncular, beardy performances in the likes of Jurassic Park and Miracle on 34th Street. But did any of them acknowledge his two best performances, which happen to be as thoroughly nasty characters? Well? Oh. They did? Well, that's okay then. So. Well, I might as well do it too. I'm, like, fashionably late, don't you know?

Brighton Rock (John Boulting, 1947) is a fine adaptation of Graham Greene's novel, centred around an excellent performance from a fresh-faced 24-year old Attenborough as the juvenile psychotic hood Pinkie Brown, a role he had previously played on stage to great acclaim. Pinkie is a small-time teenage gangster in pre-war Brighton who finds himself rapidly out of his league when his gang is threatened by a larger more sophisticated operation. After murdering reporter Fred Hale, he is forced to tie-up possible loose ends, leading to his courtship of naive waitress Rose, not out of love, but because a wife can't testify against a husband. His nemesis comes in the form of Ida, a good time lady who embarks on a campaign to see justice for the murdered Fred and to save the soul of Rose. It's a pacy thriller, with some fine noir direction which captures the seedy backstreets of Brighton to great effect. It's probably fair to mention that the transfer to screen means it is less cruel and bleak than the source novel, with Pinkie's Catholic guilt and abhorrence of sex watered down, as well as a final shot which is more hopeful than it ought to be. However, this is still a fine film and worth  a watch, not least for Attenborough's sinister and arresting turn.

10 Rillington Place (Richard Fleischer, 1971) is based on the exploits of notorious serial killer John Christie, who killed at least eight women during the 1940s and 50s in his London home (guess what the address was?). As befits the sordid story, this is a grimy, tense, claustrophobic drama, all the more horrific for being true. As the banal, softly-spoken and unspeakably evil Christie, Attenborough puts in a terrifically unsettling performance, one that disturbed him greatly during shooting. A young John Hurt is also excellent as Timothy Evans, Christie's simple-minded lodger, who was wrongly convicted and executed for the murder of his wife and daughter, murders that Christie had actually committed. Once the truth emerged upon Christie's arrest, the miscarriage of justice was a key case in the abolishment of capital punishment in the UK. It was this historical importance that Attenborough said afterwards was the reason he could not refuse the role. However, one suspects someone as savvy as Attenborough also viewed it as an opportunity to impress as an actor playing against type. And impress he does. It's not comfortable viewing, but it's worth seeing for him in particular.

Two fine films, so why not check out the darker side of Attenborough. If you'd prefer to finish on a lighter note, though, here's a smiley picture of him as Santa. RIP.



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