Brighton Rock (Rowan Joffe) versus Brighton Rock (John Boultin)
A remake of Graham Greene’s classic novel, not the classic 1947 film, that’s what the creators of 2011’s Brighton Rock said, despite the fact that the final scene uses the ending from the previous film, not the book. Nevertheless, this film is an entirely different vision of the story from its screen predecessor. Relocated to the turbulent 60’s from the turbulent 30’s, Rowan Joffe‘s remake uses the backdrop of youth riots and a crumbled vision of post-two-world-wars Britain. With the addition of the ever superb Helen Mirren, playing the go-getting woman determined to solve a crime; this is a grittier, more troubling view of the novel.
The story centres on Pinkie Brown, a fledgling gangster who begins the film by killing the man who murdered his mentor. The other gang members are concerned they will be caught (notably both films are set in a Britain that still uses the death penalty) and a young waitress becomes a key witness, on whom a crucial piece of evidence rests. In order to ensure her silence, Pinkie begins to ‘court’ the girl, Rose, whose quick devotion to him ensures that she will do whatever he asks and soon promises to keep her silent. But the pair’s plans are scuppered by inquisitive attentions of Ida, a local woman, whose determination for justice for the dead man drives Pinkie and Rose to extreme measures.
This is basically the storyline of the two films, both of which are very different from one another however. The 1947 Brighton Rock is a chilling film noir that centres on Richard Attenborough’s disturbing portrayal of Pinkie, the pivotal performance on which the entire film rests. Highly stylised, with very leading usage of music and camera angles, John Boultin’s original masterpiece is a wonderful film that is very reflective of its time. There is a touch of wry humour that surfaces now and again in this production, often in the character of Ida, whose warmth and energy provide the perfect foil to Pinkie’s chillingly unemotional approach to life and death. Rose is depicted as rather weak in this production, falling easily for this charisma of Pinkie and never bothering to ask the right questions.
Whilst Attenborough’s portrayal of the lead character is utterly compelling and he brings an element of psychological interest to the character, this year’s version of the story must be said to be the more psychological study of the central characters. Joffe’s gritty take on the story offers a bleak picture of 1960’s England and particularly the life of the lower classes in this era. The story is set amongst the backdrop of youth riots and general unrest, a background that enables the film’s most iconic moment, as Pinkie rides his stolen scooter along Brighton peer and a swarm of angry youths on scooters follow behind.
Amongst this backdrop, Pinkie and Rose look less like two angry youths than two confused and troubled young people, whose need for love and sexual confusion draws them together. This is not to undermine Sam Riley’s portrayal of Pinkie, which is in many ways, more troubling than the 1947 version, quite simply because he lets us see a human side to his character. Riley depicts the cold hearted gangster as more unpredictable, definitely needier, but also quite a bit scarier because of the fact that despite this need he is still willing to kill, lie and utterly betray Rose. Andrea Riseborough is, as ever, excellent in this remake and her portrayal of Rose is ten times the one dimensional performance of the original. A lost little girl, but at the same time a strong character who will sacrifice everything for love; this is a troubling presentation of a person’s ability to blinker their moral compass for the one they love.
The character of Ida, foil to the inhumanity of Pinkie, is a wonderful performance in both films, although very differently done. Obviously most people wouldn’t have taken even Helen Mirren seriously in a clown suit as a Brighton performer, so the reworking of this character is an excellent choice, as is the casting. One actor with the power and screen presence as well as the sexual appeal to carry the role, is Helen Mirren. Wonderful as ever, the addition of the great actress creates a well rounded and very talented cast that leaves the remake utilising the talents of all rather than, as in the original, centring the film on the key performance of one actor. This creates for a very different film and more of an ensemble piece, one that leaves a stronger and more troubling aftertaste.
In a world that often wonders why people ever bother to remake great films, Brighton Rock can stand as a testament to the fact that sometimes, the gamble works. Whilst Boultin’s film noir is a classic, this remake isn’t competing, because it isn’t in the same genre. A modern film, dealing with modern issues, Joffe’s adaptation of the classic novel boasts a wonderful cast, beautiful cinematography and a psychologically compelling storyline.