Memoirs of a survivor DVDDirector: David Gladwell
Screenplay: Kerry Crabbe & David Gladwell
Starring: Julie Christie, Christopher Guard, Leonie Mellinger, Nigel Hawthorne
Year: 1981
Country: UK
Running Time: 111 mins
BBFC Classification: 18

Memoirs of a Survivor is an adaptation of Doris Lessing’s well-known dystopian novel of the same name, published in 1974. It tells the story of ‘D’, a reclusive housewife trying to carry on as per normal after some sort of cataclysmic war has left society in a near state of collapse.

D, played well by the lovely Julie Christie, finds herself in a world not unlike that of Britain during the 70s, with rubbish piling up everywhere, regular power-cuts, water bowsers in the streets and crime rife. Life has become dour and depressing, the people surviving on a short-term basis, in a world where paranoia reigns supreme between governments, and riots and vagrancy are commonplace. Marauding gangs of brutalised children roam the streets in gangs, picking on unwary travellers, while most of the population look on in disgust through dirty net curtains that have not been washed for years due to water shortages.

Things change for our heroine when some guy from the local council drops off a traumatised, orphaned teenager called Emily for D to look after since, apparently, she’d signed up to some sort of social care voluntary scheme years before, which indicated that she wanted to help those less fortunate than herself. Emily, and her dog, are, at first, suspicious of D and anyone else that comes near them, but D soon wins them over with her non-threatening, easy-going manner and Emily is soon helping out around the house and showing genuine, almost child-like curiosity for the wider world around her.

During one of her outdoors excursions walking her dog, Emily meets Gerald and his large entourage of displaced ‘extended’ family; a ‘family’ of homeless children, women and a few guys who seem to come and go. Gerald, for all of his arrogant and womanising ways, genuinely seems to care about the fate of all the misplaced children and wants to find them shelter and regular food. With Emily’s help they set up a kind of commune on the outskirts of town, in a disused old people’s home, but it’s not long before things take a turn for the worse and things start to unravel as personalities clash and the feral children, who dwell in the basements and in the underground nearby, come looking to feed.

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Memoirs of a Survivor is the sort of film that would never get made these days. It’s grim, thought-provoking stuff, shot to ‘entertain’ the art-house cinema crowd and keep literary critics happy with its focus on character rather than on incident. However, that’s not to say that the film is uninteresting to viewers with more mainstream tastes. Leonie Mellinger, who plays Emily, is very engaging and her off-kilter romance with bad-boy gone good, Gerald, is quite sweet and the dystopian society never fails to trouble the viewer with its plausibility.

This is not a film with any answers or a trite Hollywood ending; in fact I’m still scratching my head about the ending even now! In fact there are many elements within the film that are surreal or just plain weird. D’s ability to walk through her apartment’s end wall and into a Victorian house and witness what appears to be a version of herself in the past as a little girl growing up in a Victorian household is pure sci-fi/fantasy territory. I’m sure the book would explain it, but the film doesn’t, unless I missed something…

Memoirs… is nicely shot in subdued tones with some subtle, but disturbing (and somewhat Tangerine Dream-ish) music under-scoring it all. The acting is all pretty good, although Christie doesn’t have enough screen-time really as this is more about Emily’s journey than D’s. Julie Christie though has always had an amazing way of acting with just her eyes; hence the absence of dialogue isn’t a big problem here.

If you enjoy films that are somewhat different from the norm and enjoy a slower-paced unravelling of an interesting story (such that there is) then I can certainly recommend that you take a look at Memoirs of a Survivor.

Memoirs of a Survivor has recently been released on DVD and is being distributed by Network Distributing who are, to their credit, currently releasing lots of these rarer British film titles.

Extras-wise there is only a fairly obtuse trailer for the film and a gallery of 20 or so stills, posters and film programs from the film. A bit disappointing; Network certainly need to try harder when it comes to additional features on their discs.

About The Author

Justin Richards is a journalist by day and a scriptwriter by night. His work has appeared in the darker recesses of the internet and in various niche publications including ITNOW, The Darkside, Is it Uncut?, Impact and Deranged. When he’s not sitting hunched over a sticky, crumb-laden keyboard he’s paying good money to have people in pyjamas try and kick him repeatedly in the face.

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