It’s all too easy to cry foul when an adaptation doesn’t match your lovely and elaborate memory of fictional scenes, but the new Brighton Rock did a spectacular job of setting off on the wrong foot. Having had the novel battered over my head by a terrifyingly Anglophilic Swedish English-teacher [yes, exactly that] one of the early scenes of the novel, in a small, dingy, absolutely despondent pub on a weekday lunchtime, for some reason struck a chord with my teenage self. There’d be mould on the walls, an air of resignation as thick as the smoke, and despite all this the brash yet unequivocally human character of Ida Arnold appears.
The opening of said scene in the film puts it in a gleaming palace of brass and porcelain, the sun streaming in, the patrons elegantly propping up the bar with poised noses. They’re still drinking gin, but for all I remember it may as well have been to the clinking of dry martinis. And then Helen Mirren opens her mouth and my vague reminisces of dialogue appear to have taken the form of an Eastenders audition tape. It’s hard not to get stuck on a hundred little hang-ups, but the whole thing just sat really badly.
And then the story starts to unfurl, and well, after a while I fell asleep. It was the middle of the day, I’d had a coffee before I went in, it wasn’t particularly warm in the cinema, but still I was out like a light for a good half hour. I’m not prone to cinematic snoozing unless under certain narcoleptic duress, but this certainly wasn’t one of those instances. Boredom might be the short word for it, but I just didn’t care about the characters, their motivations, anything. A complete failure to engage on nigh on every level.
I like to kid myself that while I snoozed I dreamt of alternative approaches to the film. Maybe one set in modern Brighton, or perhaps in a completely distinct criminal subculture. Or maybe abroad, a Polish Brighton Rock could be interesting, especially as the tale of an anguished lapsed Catholic has more resonance there. Just anything that had a spark of imagination with the source material would do. Anything but what we got in this film.
Fell Asleep out of Five
Brighton Rock has been showing at the Showroom in Sheffield from last Friday (the 4th of February 2010.)