Director: Michael Winner
Screenplay: Keith Waterhouse, Willis Hall
Based on a Novel by: Laura del Rivo
Starring: Alfred Lynch, Kathleen Breck, Eric Portman, Diana Dors, Kathleen Harrison, Freda Jackson, Finlay Currie
Running Time: 93 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
Michael Winner became a bit of a joke over the years, almost a parody of himself with those insurance adverts he did towards the end of his life. He’s best remembered for his violent Charles Bronson movies (particularly the first 3 Death Wish films) and similarly trashy fare. However, earlier in his career he made a name for himself as a reliable maker of genre movies.
Possibly his first notable feature film was West 11. Based on a well-regarded novel, ‘The Furnished Room’ by Laura del Rivo, the producers originally had Joseph Losey in mind to direct, but he turned it down. It’s not a particularly well-known film but presents an intriguingly mature turn from a director known for less-than-subtle work.
With West 11 being released on Blu-ray, DVD and digital by Studiocanal in a nicely restored print, I thought I’d give it a look.
The film sees Alfred Lynch play Joe Beckett, a young man suffering from an existential crisis. Among other things, he’s fed up of being pushed around at work so quits and is also frustrated by the bed-hopping ‘free-love’ antics of Ilsa (Kathleen Breck), the woman he most cares for. His life seems to have little purpose anymore and he’s struggling to decide what to do with it next.
However, Joe is approached by a shifty con-man called Dyce (Eric Portman) who senses something in him that might work in his favour. So Dyce has a goon-for-hire follow Joe around for a while before revealing his intentions. He wants Joe to murder his rich aunt so that he can get his hands on her inheritance money without questions being asked.
Joe would normally never be interested in such extreme criminal activities, but with his life offering little for him he begins to toy with the idea.
West 11 is an interesting and unusual film. It plays out like a kind of fusion of British crime or noir with the ‘kitchen-sink’ drama that was popular at the time, all with an existential twist. The crime element perhaps doesn’t kick into gear until quite late in the film, but there’s a mysterious atmosphere from early on, as soon as Dyce starts snooping around.
For the most part though, West 11 plays in the young, angry man mode popularised by titles such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and Look Back in Anger. It does this well too. Joe’s frustrations are clearly presented without spelling it out too laboriously (though some conversations with the eccentric ‘Gash’ character do make the film’s aims a little too clear) and, more notably, the film examines how changes in times were affecting people.
This is the side of the film I most appreciated. The ‘swinging 60s’ are often thought of as a joyous period of freedom where music and fashion made London a bright cultural spot in the world. West 11 perfectly captures all the partying and good times being had by young people back then, but also shows how self-destructive it could be having everyone do whatever they wanted. It’s an interesting perspective on the era that makes for a thought-provoking film.
Some parts don’t work though. On top of the couple of clunky conversations I mentioned earlier, I found Lynch to be a bit of a dull lead. He doesn’t do a bad job, his character is supposed to be bored of life, but, at the same time, his lifeless approach doesn’t make for a captivating performance. This, added to the low-key approach of much of the first two-thirds of the film, means it’s quite a slow-moving drama. This didn’t bother me, but the film wasn’t what I expected due to this and it’s not particularly attention-grabbing.
So, an odd hybrid of kitchen sink drama and crime thriller, West 11 is a curious beast. Its melancholic tone and slow pace won’t suit everyone but I found it quietly gripping. Taking a fascinating view of the swinging 60s, it asks what good it is to be free if you don’t know where to go?
West 11 is out on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms on 5th July in the UK, released by Studiocanal as part of their Vintage Classics range. I watched the Blu-ray version and it looks very nice. It’s a clean and sharp print though the grain seemed a touch jittery (I’m not sure of the proper term, but the grain seemed to have more rapid movement than usual) in brighter patches. Audio is solid too.
The only special feature of note is an interview with journalist and film historian Matthew Sweet. This is very good, providing a strong argument as to why West 11 is an underrated classic. It would have been nice to get some more extras on top of this, but it is a fairly obscure title so you can’t expect a huge amount of material to be available, so I’d still recommend the release.