The Tokyo International Film Festival kicks off next week, and a number of pre-screenings for press are being held this week, and Brighton Rock was the first film of the festival I got to see. I have never seen the famed 1947 British noir that gave a boost to Richard Attenborough’s early career, and have also not read the 1938 Graham Greene novel on which is it based. And even though I have been to Brighton, I had no idea what Brighton Rock is, and so I came to this new adaptation of the novel with no expectations whatsoever.
For a first time director, Rowan Joffé was certainly able to put together an impressive cast. John Hurt appears in a relatively small role, and the always-good Helen Mirren appears in a pivotal role. The cast also includes two of the rising stars of British cinema. Sam Riley, who did a spot-on impersonation of Ian Curtis in Control plays the central character of Pinkie Brown, a young hoodlum who has aspirations of being a big-time gangster. Andrea Riseborough, who has mainly worked in British television, has generated a lot of buzz with her portrayal of Rose, the innocent waitress who Pinkie marries to prevent her from giving testimony that would send him to the gallows. It was a bit odd to watch the scene in which Pinkie has to bribe Rose’s father for permission to marry the girl, because she is too young to marry without his consent, and Pinkie is always referred to as a “kid.” A quick internet search reveals that Pinkie is just 17 in the novel, and Rose is even younger, while Riley and Riseborough are both nearer to 30. To be fair, it must be really difficult to find an actor who can be a vicious as Pinkie is and also look 17.
Joffé, who also wrote the script, moved the story up to 1964, and embeds it into the mod movement and the “youthquakes” that were exposing rifts in British society. This allows him to add some impressive scenes of scores of mod boys and scooters, and some youth riots on Brighton pier, but I am not really sure if makes the story better than what it would have been if it were set in 1938. “Brighton rock” turns out to be a bit of souvenir candy, a long, straight candy cane, which reads “Brighton Rock” on the end, and always reads such no matter how far down the candy is eaten. In the film, it becomes a rather gruesome murder weapon, and also serves as a metaphor for human nature. People never change. Once a thug, always a thug. If that’s so, why the shift to 1964?