Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on May 1, 2014
Peter Collinson’s effective slice-of-life drama UP THE JUNCTION (1968) makes its DVD and Blu-ray debut in the U.S. this week thanks to Olive Films. Today the film is often fondly remembered by fans of sixties cinema for its South London setting, colorful mod fashions, beehive hairdos, boastful bikers and jazzy psychedelic pop score by Manfred Mann. But UP THE JUNCTION has more to offer viewers besides an abundance of great style and an unforgettable soundtrack.
Loosely based on a series of vignettes written by Nell Dunn that focused on the lives of working-class women, UP THE JUNCTION presents a gritty snapshot of postwar Britain. The film adaptation centers around a pretty, well-heeled and incredibly naïve 21-year-old woman named Polly (Suzy Kendall) who decides to abandon her swinging lifestyle in Chelsea and move to Battersea. Polly sees poverty stricken Battersea as a kinder and simpler alternative to the posh and pompous world she grew up in but the war torn houses that litter the streets and the ragged faces that occupy them tell us another story. After getting a humble job at a candy factory, Polly befriends two fun-loving sisters (Adrienne Post and Maureen Lipman) and falls for a working-class lad named Peter (Dennis Waterman). Polly’s innocence, determination and optimism are refreshing to Peter but her sheltered existence has also made Polly somewhat immune to the hardships faced by her less fortunate neighbors and their budding romance is complicated by Peter’s desire to have the kind of luxurious life that Polly happily left behind. The bigoted landlords, abusive husbands, lack of gainful employment and back alley abortions might not make much of an impact on pretty Polly but the film doesn’t shy away from showing us the bleaker aspects of this poor London borough. The film ends on a downbeat note suggesting that any happiness is hard gained and fleeting no matter what side of the tracks you come from but Polly’s naiveté remains intact.
Director Peter Collinson is probably best known to American film audiences for his classic crime caper THE ITALIAN JOB (1969), which starred Michael Caine as a clever ex-con plotting a major gold heist in Italy, but the talented filmmaker is also responsible for making a number of other unusual and noteworthy films in a variety of genres including PENTHOUSE (1967), THE LONG DAY’S DYING (1968), FRIGHT (1971), STRAIGHT ON TIL MORNING (1972), OPEN SEASON (1974), AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (1974) and TOMORROW NEVER COMES (1978). Collinson, who came from a broken home and grew up in an orphanage, was no stranger to poverty and adversity so it’s not surprising that he was drawn to Nell Dunn’s vivid descriptions of life in South London. Dunn was one of the few women writers who came to prominence during the British New Wave, which is often associated with Angry Young Men such as John Osborne, Kingsley Amis, Alan Sillitoe and David Storey. Much like the fictional character of Polly in Collinson’s film, Dunn left her upper-class home and moved to Battersea where she began to write about the area and the people she encountered there. Some critics understandably accused her of ‘slumming’ after Up the Junction was published but Dunn’s writing is sharp, perceptive and nonjudgmental. She had a wonderful ear for dialogue that painted an intimate portrait of the working-class women she befriended.
UP THE JUNCTION was originally adapted for television by director Ken Loach. His documentary style approach to the material paints a much bleaker portrait of South London and is truer to Dunn’s original work. When Loach’s televised adaptation originally aired in 1965 it caused a major uproar in Britain due to its rough language, racist characters, graphic depictions of sexual promiscuity and a harrowing abortion scene. By the time Peter Collinson began filming his big screen version of UP THE JUNCTION in 1967 audiences were used to seeing confrontational depictions of adult relationships and abortion had been legalized in Britain but the subject matter still raised eyebrows. Collinson’s film isn’t a bold experimental film in the tradition of Ken Loach, but the subject matter and class conflicts it wrestles with are reminiscent of many critically acclaimed kitchen sink dramas from the early sixties.
Collinson’s film benefits from some strong performances, particularly from the supporting characters. Adrienne Posta (TO SIR, WITH LOVE; 1967, HERE WE GO ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH; 1968, SOME GIRLS DO; 1969, etc.) and Maureen Lipman (SCHOOL FOR UNCLAIMED GIRLS; 1969, AGONY 1979-1981, EDUCATING RITA; 1983, etc.) are especially memorable as Rube and Sylvie, two feisty factory girls trying to survive and thrive in the industrial slums of Battersea. Dennis Waterman (SCARS OF DRACULA; 1070, MAN IN THE WILDERNESS; 1971, FRIGHT; 1971, etc.) is particularly believable as an ‘Angry Young Man’ desperate to break away from his working-class roots. A few other stand out performances include Michael Gothard (SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN; 1970, THE DEVIL; 1971, LA VALLEE; 1972, etc.) and Michael Standing (COP-OUT; 1967, POOR COW; 1967, THE ITALIAN JOB; 1969, etc.) as young members of a small motorcycle gang and the always reliable Aubrey Morris (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE: 1971, THE WICKER MAN; 1973, LOVE AND DEATH; 1975, etc.) as a sleazy landlord. And if you don’t blink you may spot a brief appearance by a very young Susan George (THE LOOKING GLASS WAR; 1969, STRAW DOGS; 1971, FRIGHT; 1971, etc.) as one of the factory girls. Unfortunately Suzy Kendall (THE LIQUIDATER; 1965, TO SIR, WITH LOVE; 1965, BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE; 1970, etc.) who I normally enjoy watching seems somewhat lost as the curiously carefree Polly and her hollow interpretation of the character makes it difficult to sympathize with her and understand her motives.
The film looks stunning on Blu-ray thanks to Olive Films’ pristine widescreen disc. Colors pop and the gritty streets of Battersea have never looked more alive. Like all of Olive Films’ releases, UP THE JUNCTION doesn’t come with any extra material but the film has been hard to see in the U.S. since its original theatrical run, which makes it a noteworthy release. This important sixties time capsule should appeal to anyone who appreciates British cinema and style-conscious period dramas. The Blu-ray and DVD are currently available to purchase at the TCM online shop.
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