Director: Rowan Joffé
Stars: Sam Riley, Andrea Riseborough, Helen Mirren
Plot: Pinkie Brown, a sociopathic Brighton gang leader, commits a murder and tries to cover it up by marrying the girl who could incriminate him.
Stereotypical 1960s films set in Britain have Beatles music playing in every cafe, teenagers walking around in mop-tops and a general feeling of new freedoms and social revolutions abound. This film adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel of choice for many an A-Level curriculum (which is actually set in the 1930s), is far from this breezy ideal. Challenging themes such as religion, morality and the real meaning of love are all crammed into the 110 minutes of this big-screen remake of the 1947 classic starring Richard Attenborough.
Set in 1964, Brighton Rock begins with the brutal murder of a gang member loyal to Spicer (Philip Davis), who is a rival Brighton mobster to Colleoni (Andy Serkis) whose men carry out the killing. Hale (Sean Harris), who dealt the fatal blow, is pursued by sociopath Pinkie Brown (Riley), another of Spicer’s men determined to seek revenge. Hale fears for his life and encounters his friend Ida (Mirren) in a pub, who is concerned for his welfare and notices he doesn’t appear to be well. Hale runs out onto Brighton Pier and meets Rose (Andrea Riseborough), but also Spicer who appears next to them. A photographer taking pictures for tourists captures the three together but Hale manages to escape Spicer and is consequently chased underneath the pier by Pinkie, who kills him.
Pinkie learns that Rose still has the slip from the photographer to claim the photo and decides he must befriend her and retrieve it, otherwise she could unwittingly lead the police to them. He also has designs on becoming the gang leader, becoming a merciless killer to anyone who stands in his way, despite being, at 17, the youngest in the group. Pinkie unsuccessfully tries to bargain a truce with Colleoni and sinks deeper into the gang-related mire, marrying Rose in haste as wives cannot give evidence in a trial against their husbands. Ida, who also happens to be Rose’s boss at a local tea shop, takes it upon herself to make sure that Rose is saved from a terrible fate – the longer she stays with Pinkie, the more likely that everything will end in tragedy.
Without reading Greene’s novel, many of the major themes will probably not make much sense, as they are mentioned here but merely skirted around. The main focus of the film are the inner conflicts of Pinkie and Rose who both reluctantly make sacrifices in order to be with each other and are ultimately left with very little. Riley’s Pinkie is very believable, not on a par with the incomparable Dickie Attenborough, but evidence of a future talent nonetheless. Equally, Riseborough brings a telling naivety and vulnerability to the screen as Rose, with Mirren’s Ida as you would expect – done effortlessly.
The transplantation to the 1960s has been criticised by the purists and, while it works in the main, there are a few inserted elements such as the very Quadrophenia-style mod invasion of Brighton which feels like it’s been shoehorned in because the filmmakers just couldn’t resist. The general atmosphere of Brighton Rock does feel a little stale at times, but the plotting is pretty tight and the storyline moves along quite nicely without pausing for breath.
Greene’s Brighton Rock might be a classic piece of literature that has stood the test of time, but unfortunately this film version will most likely be remembered as nothing more than a decent attempt to tinker with a very well-known and dense text that needs to be read instead of being adapted for cinema, to fully understand its profound meanings.