Film: It would have been nice to have seen this movie at the cinema, but Guernsey being Guernsey, this film didn’t make it to the Mallard (it made it to Alderney cinema though, damn that karma). But I’ll settle for the DVD, on sale since Monday, of Brighton Rock, the second adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel of the same name. If you followed some of the news items I posted in the build up to the release of this movie, then you will be aware of how excited I have been for seeing this film, having studied the 1947 Richard Attenborough film. So, how does the film fair to both the original movie, and the source novel? Well, it certainly is a different beast entirely.

The action this time is moved from 1930’s Brighton to the swinging 60’s, Brighton 1964 to be exact. Tensions are high on the coast of Brighton, due to the violent youth revolts between Mods and Rockers rising to dangerous levels, but also in the form of gang warfare between large-scale gangster Colleoni (Andy Serkis) and small-time crooks, led by the young and reckless Pinkie Brown (Sam Riley), following the murder of their previous leader. When a murder committed by Pinkie results in a potentially damaging witness, the young and naive Rose (Andrea Riseborough), Pinkie goes out of his way to tie up all loose ends, by any means necessary. He also has a challenge to face in the form of Ida Arnold (Helen Mirren), a woman determined to make sure he gets what’s coming to him and to try to save Rose from destroying her life by falling for the dangerous Pinkie.

The move to the 60’s is the biggest change in this adaptation, it’s also the detail that gives this film its own identity and sense of originality. The influence of the Mods and Rockers really only plays out in the background of this Brighton, the crux of the film’s narrative development is still focused around the relationship between Pinkie and Rose and the growing ominous atmosphere. The Mods and Rockers aspect does however allow for some very cool period set pieces, especially the very stylish scooter rally that takes place before a fight on Palace Pier. The 60’s setting is used for the general look of the film, from the beautiful cinematography, to the music score which feels as if it has been lifted directly from a 60’s British thriller. The 60’s setting certainly gives the film a certain freshness, yet I also think it’s not fully exploited. It may have been an idea once they decided to update the book to the 60’s to have it a war against Mods and Rockers rather than keep the two rival gangsters. But I guess that decision was made to allow for the film to maintain respect for both the original film and the source novel, which it certainly does.

The tone of this Brighton Rock, is much more in keeping with that of the book, a dark and gritty atmosphere, one where the crashing waves of the coast of Brighton feel like an ominous build up to the tragic conclusion that will eventually come crashing down. It’s to the credit of debut director Rowan Joffe (scriptwriter for the likes of 28 Weeks Later and George Clooney’s The American) that he has so skillfully managed to establish this moody tone, and tells the audience that this is not going to shy away like the Attenborough version did (although that was probably pretty hardcore for 1947). It’s this gritty style, along with the 60’s setting, that I think has worked out as the most effective element of this, it’s not afraid to go into the dark realms of the novel (showing why it’s called Brighton Rock this time around), and playing up the Catholicism of the book.

The character development is much more rounded particularly for Rose, as she is much more out-spoken, and we see a great deal more of her home life and get the sense of her as a character, rather than just some bystander who Pinkie has to deal with, which she very much felt like in the original film. This is down in part to the complex performance of Andrea Riseborough, who injects Rose with a crazy amount of naivety, yet also a strong sense of loyalty which you ultimately respect, even if it does seem unclear as to what draws her to Pinkie, when he seems a very on edge and quite unlikable character. Pinkie himself remains a very hard character to read. He’s not an anti-hero. He is, pure and simple, the villain. That much you can take from his character. But due to his cold and fierce demeanour, the audience remains quite detached. Sam Riley is incredibly intense and you certainly fear him, and there is still that sense of a young man who is in too deep that truly overcame in Attenborough’s performance, a performance which established him as a rising talent. Riley has done the sensible option of taking the character back to the book, creating an intense and ambiguous character. The ambiguity of his sexuality is not played upon in this film, nor is it much in the original, but Pinkie’s intentions, with Rose in particular. Riley isn’t really given the moments to show the young boy underneath the tough exterior that Attenborough revelled in, therefore creating a much more layered character. However, Riley’s Pinkie is a much more dangerous character and seemingly quite unpredictable, and it further highlights his talent as an actor following his stunning debut in 2007’s Control. The rest of the cast all add a touch of class, particularly with the likes of Andy Serkis, Helen Mirren and John Hurt to boot, but the film is largely Riley’s show, which Riseborough proving a nice surprise.

All together, I think in terms of atmosphere and sticking to the tone of the book, this version of Brighton Rock is the much better film. It looks stunning, features incredibly strong performances and some nice touches within its 60’s setting. Saying that, the 60’s setting isn’t fully exploited to what it could have been and some of the story threads still remain rather murky (is Rose really THAT naive?), and the dark, brooding and cold atmosphere can leave you feeling slightly detached at times. But if you’re a fan of either the original or the book, or even both, then this is a satisfying re-visit to Brighton, that amounts to an entertaining, dark and gritty British thriller.

Extras: At a glance, it looks like a very decent package. But the interviews drag on for quite sometime, and there is a rather odd addition of a 1964 Mods and Rockers documentary, so random that I didn’t even try to make it to the end of it. There is a fun little feature though that has the cast and crew of the film answering the question, what would they have been, a Mod or a Rocker? Commentaries from Joffe and editor Joe Walker rounds off the DVD.

Film- 4/5           Extras– 3/5  

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