England is Mine / The L-Shaped Room
Released earlier this year, England is Mine chronicles the immediate pre-Smiths life of Stephen Patrick Morrissey (Jack Lowden) up to his initial encounter with future writing partner Johnny Marr. Morrissey’s time is spent either clock-watching in his thankless internal revenue job, or in his bedroom composing letters to the NME, with occasional forays to concerts. At one such gig he befriends designer and Manchester face Linder Sterling (Jessica Brown Findlay), who encourages him to follow his ambitions of stardom.
Despite its unauthorised status and lack of Smiths material (which actually makes sense considering the film’s timescale), this is no mere cash-in, evidenced by the considered period detail (anachronistic dialogue howlers aside) and a well-assembled soundtrack which avoids obvious tunes in favour of Mott the Hoople deep cuts and Diana Dors 45s. A biopic dealing with a character whose chief activity is moping is inevitably a bit of chore and the film feels longer than its ninety-seven minutes. Still, Scottish actor Lowden is excellent in the lead role, perfectly capturing the singer’s soft-spoken tetchy charisma, and there’s one wonderful moment when Morrissey makes his debut as singer of band The Nosebleeds, delivering a rousing performance of The Shangri-Las’ Give Him a Great Big Kiss.
Dedicated Smithsologists will know that the snatch of the song Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty, which opens The Queen is Dead album, is lifted from the 1962 film The L-Shaped Room a restored version of which played at the London Film Festival earlier this year, and which is released on DVD and Blu-ray at the end of November. Leslie Caron, playing way outside her lavish musical comfort zone, is Jane, a young French woman, pregnant with an illegitimate child who moves into a dilapidated lodging house in Notting Hill. Despite a chilly reception from catty landlady Doris (a deliciously poisonous Avis Bunnage) Jane gradually gets to know and befriend her disparate fellow lodgers: struggling writer Toby (Tom Bell), gay black jazz trumpeter Johnny (Brock Peters), tart with a heart Sonia (Pat Phoenix) and most memorably, and movingly, Mavis (Cicely Courtneidge) a faded music hall star, still pining for her lost love.
The picture was based on the novel by Lynn Reid Banks, who confesses in the DVD extras that she hated the ending and consequently declined to speak to the director Bryan Forbes for years after its release. And while it was released only a year after A Taste of Honey critics were already declaring the kitchen sink genre passé. Nevertheless it was a big hit, and watching it now one can detect, along with the social realism, a dash of Douglas Sirk-style ‘woman’s film’ melodrama; the film even anticipates Roman Polanski’s Repulsion in its depiction of a young French woman isolated in (initially) foreboding London surroundings.The L-Shaped Room is released on DVD, Blu-ray and is available for download on November 27th, England is Mine is available for download on 27th November, and out on DVD 4th December.