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Brighton Rock and Roll

Mark Kermode | 16:14 UK time, Tuesday, 8 February 2011

In his new take on Brighton Rock, director Rowan, son of Roland, Joffé has shifted the setting forward in time to the early 1960s. A stellar cast that includes Sam Riley, Angela Riseborough and Helen Mirren (not to mention the great Phil Davis) look fantastic in the seedy seaside setting. But isn't this more than an updated tribute to Graham Greene and the hallowed 1947 movie? Isn't there another iconic Brighton movie being exhumed for (scooter and motorcycle) parts?

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  • Comment number 1.

    Oh thanks for spoiling the end of Quadrophenia for me Mark! You could at least have given me a Spoiler Alert!

  • Comment number 2.

    Can't really comment on the actual content of this video since I haven't seen Brighton Rock yet, but I do like the gratuitous shot of the dude with the LRB at the beginning of this. Is there some obscure meaning behind this? No-one reads anything other than Metro on the tube, anyway.

  • Comment number 3.

    I attended a preview of BR at the BFI a week ago and talked with Rowan Joffe finding him a remarkably articualte and intelligent man. Merits and flaws of the feature aside it seems that the Mod element and 60s setting were an attempt to tie in the themes of Pinky's misanthropy and fear of capital punishment as this was the last year of the death penalty and the same year as the violent outbreak of the youth quake. that said it builds this on a cultural preconception we have of this place in time which was forged by Quadrophenia and hence lacks an orginality that hinders the production. Phil Davis is great though!

  • Comment number 4.

    Quadrophenia was quite a key film for me in my mid-90s youth. Mod fashion had re-re-revived for the umpteenth time and all my mates and cohorts were in thrall to parkas, Levis and Fred Perry shirts. I think I became aware of it through, of all things, Kermode's cult corner review of it on the Graveyard shift with Mark Radcliffe (remember that?) so the Dr has a lot to answer for :-)

    Funny thing is, I think the majority of us got it totally wrong (or were wilfully ignorant). For me now, the message of the film is simply that youth cults, gang conformity and slavish adherence to pop culture are poor substitutes for spiritual wholeness, self-awareness and self-identity.

    The irony of course is that the whole mod-revival sub-culture, inspired and nourished by Quadrophenia, persists precisely to maintain the lie that clothes, music and being 'in the crowd' do matter! One only has to look at the likes of Liam Gallagher and his "Pretty Green" clothes line for evidence of people completely missing the point.


    I personally never thought Jimmy committed suicide. The Everyman hero of the film, once stripped of the accoutrements of mod culture and having been let down by fashion, friends and love, ritually exercises himself of his conformity by ceremonially launching that embodiment of Mod, the precious GS scooter, off Beachy Head and stalks away reborn, ready to restart his life...As Mark says, the beginning tells you this in flashback if you watch carefully.


  • Comment number 5.

    Thankyou! Finally someone mentions Quadraphenia its something i have watched so many times and i remember seeing a picture of Brighton Rock before i knew it was Brighton Rock and thinking, have they remade Quadraphenia?!

  • Comment number 6.

    I must confess I haven't seen the original BR (but have read the book) or Quadraphenia (although it's such a icon I could almost believe I have, even though it's only by way of clips on review show) Mods and Brighton Rock seem a perfect match (plus it's cheaper to get 1000 scooters/mods wearing their own clothes than to fill the screen then 1000's 1940's period dress extra's)

    I'm suprised to see The Wanderers mentioned. I was only 14 when I saw that on video, I can only remember that "You don't 'mess' with the baldies" and the dangers of String with Bricks tied to one end. Personally I always have a soft spot for The Warriors as a teen film. Years later I read the book and was suprised as it was just as gripping. In fact I had to buy it again due to the fact the first copy I bought must of been a cast off as once you got to page 43 it started from page 1 again.

  • Comment number 7.

    When is something a lift or a copy and not an 'homage' to a previous great film? Clearly Joffe (oooh, I've come over all fingerbobs!) is both an admirer of the great Q and the period it is set in. In my book what he has done is clever. As a time period the sixties still resonates with a greater volume in our cultural consciousness than the post war forties of rationing and national bankruptcy, hence film makers and television producers love dipping into it still.

  • Comment number 8.

    This post seems to resonate quite interestingly for me with the Good Doctor's recent discussion of when remakes are/n't remakes, in the vein of True Grit, Let Me In, and so on. Does a remake that borrows heavily from two former movies really 'remake' either of them? And if not, will film studios be willing to embellish and cross-fertilise other classics? "Tron" meets "Brazil", perhaps?

    Despite how cynical that sounds, I agree that the new Brighton Rock is a really good movie. It does have its weak moments (in particular, the resolution of the John Hurt/Helen Mirren storyline is completely out of step with the rest of the film) but broadly speaking I thought it was a satisfying and chilling exploration of how deranged both leads were, with some enjoyable cameos from British stalwarts.

  • Comment number 9.

    Mark? Isn't Quadrophenia essentially a remake of Brighton Rock anyhow? So hasn't it come full circle?

  • Comment number 10.

    @ewen griffn Can Mark really be the first person to have mentioned the Quadrophenia link. Surely any critic worth their salt would have picked up on it, I'd be really surprised if they hadn't. It was certainly one of the first things I thought after seeing the trailer.

    I haven't seen the movie yet but I have quite high hopes due to the source material and calibre of the actors involved. It looks so stylish too, I hope I'm not disappointed but I must say I am a little worried due to the mixed reviews.

  • Comment number 11.

    Any use of Mods, scooters etc are probably just a superficial attempt to make the film more attractive and 'yoof' orientated. A film set in the 1930s would be seen nowadays as a period drama aimed at the middle aged.

    There's little similarity between the plots of Brighton Rock and Quadrophenia (or between their central characters Pinky & Jimmy).

    Pity the makers didn't have the courage to set Brighton Rock in a modern day setting; sociopathic wanna-be gangsters like Pinky are still around.

    There's been a TV adaptation of Brighton Rock; I believe there was also a stage musical at one point.

    The 1940's film with Attenborough was powerful (if you haven't seen it do try and catch it; he portrayed evil really well), but the ending stopped short of crushing Rose completely (she believed Pinky loved her deep-down; he left a recording to be played after his death making it clear he utterly despised her - but it stuck on the words "I love you, I love you...").

    The novel is all about upending ideas of redemption through religion (Pinky is a Catholic), the power of love, the nature of sin and so on.

    What's important about any remake is how these themes are handled - and how powerful the ending is; do the film-makers (again) shy away from having as harsh an ending as Greene's novel had?

  • Comment number 12.

    Rather than being patently evil as portrayed by Sir Richard in the '47 version, Riley's Pinky is gormless and for the most part about as threatening as teabag. The only person on display who is dopier than he is is young Rose, who never gleans for a second that Pinky is heartless and cares not a whit for her, despite this being screamingly obvious to the rest of us.

    Dr K absolutely nails the lifts from Quadrophenia; the beach fight set piece is almost a shot for shot lift from Q. Homage? Maybe. Lazy? Certainly. Watch Quadrophenia and the original '47 adaptation of BR and skip this middling time waster.

  • Comment number 13.

    To BluesMonster

    Who's that behind the magazine??!! I think it's Hugh Grant, don't know why I think that - but I do think it is interesting he is reading London Book review with a back cover that reads 'radical philosophy' in big letters.

    Here's my interpretation of the situation - Incidence. This word also shares the first three letters with Mark's favourite film, Inception (more incidence) which is not mentioned here as the MOST directed film of the year (not incidence).

    The reason this is incidental, is that Dr K dislikes the Matrix for not having a formulaic beginning/middle/end structure, despite being packed to the rafters with philosophy (and immensely relevant philosophy), yet loves Inception because he believes it to have philosophical meaning, when it is in fact a heavily layered love story/action thriller without social or human statement (relevance).

    Noah and the Whale this week have revealed Charles Bukowski as their influence for their new album, and this could tie up the LBR/Philosophy debate much more quickly. Does Mark like Noah and the Whale? Perhaps this is the most scientifically likely answer, because it is simpler, but I believe it to be purely incidental.

    Quadrophenia Rocks. Brighton Rocks. End of.

  • Comment number 14.

    So remaking Brighton Rock is OK but Let The Right One In is not? perhaps some consistance may be in order..

  • Comment number 15.

    I do enjoy Mark Kermode's reviews, I think generally, he has a good intuition about films, but I agree with Luke, there is a degree of inconsistancy to his criticism & a slightly disingenuous loyalty to the original book or the original film(s). I'm not suggesting Mark is not a fan Quadraphenia or the 1947 take on Brighton Rock, but to discuss the film's apparent desecration with concern & frown upon it's makers for 'Lifting entire scenes wholesale' sounds a little sanctimonious coming from someone who makes as much reference to past culture as Mark does, playing double bass in a Skiffle band & talking enthusiatically about 1970's horror is acceptable but making a deliberate artistic reference to a late 1970's film, now considered a classic, is not. As it goes, I am a fan of Graham Green's novel, the original film & Quadraphenia, I enjoyed this film less but I thought aesthetically it was fascinating & the performances were wonderful, especially Pinkie & Rose, I am also a fan of Mark Kermode's reviews, just not this one...

  • Comment number 16.

    @13: hey... wha?

    I've re-read your post a few times and still can't understand what on earth you are on about. Can you elaborate? (I think I'm going to regret this...)

    p.s. Going off-topic here and no doubt I'm probably going to get lynched for saying this but... maybe the reason that Dr. K dislikes the Matrix Trilogy is due to the fact that it is one of the most flatulent pieces of film-making of the last two decades.

    Looking back, the Wachowski's had a great opportunity: in 1999 they had a decently-written, mostly self-contained paranoid SF fantasy/adventure, clearly wearing its influences on its sleeve (Terminator, Aliens, Ghost in the Shell, Philip K. Dick, Gnosticism etc,etc.) without slavish deference or straight plagiarism. Frankly, of the two "simulated reality" films that came out that year, "eXistenZ" by David Cronenberg was the superior film for me but I was prepared to accept Matrix's ascendancy - two decent SF films in a year is better than the usual (namely none).

    It should have ended there, but no... By 2003, they'd ruined it all with two completely redundant, indulgent, empty sequels with very little in the way of emotional or philosophical depth. Like Tarantino, they decided to cede to the fanboys and Otakus' desire for superfluous detail and pointless Anime-esque action (fellow travellers I guess) with a silly script, a clichéd narrative arc and, above all, a thuddingly dull and predictable denouement.

    They redeemed themselves somewhat with "V for Vendetta", which was (surprisingly) decent but they'll always be the guys who had something good and complete but threw it away in the name of fanboy indulgence.


    That felt good to write :-)

  • Comment number 17.

    Hi Joel_Cooney,

    Can't say I disagree with your comments about the Matrix Trilogy, it's completely flacid by the end and there were some actual laugh inducing moments in the latter two installments. Self gratifying indeed.

    To explain the post, it was a whinge about the mention of Inception in every of Dr K's blog/podcast/radio show in recent memory, and it was a way of making that statement in a way someone would notice, and, someone did. So thanks.

    I generally like what Dr K says about films as he is insightful and intelligent, but the mention of Nolan and his ability to direct more hours than there are in a day means he should be given the superman oscar, and not the best director one. The Dark Knight is better, and Shutter Island was DiCaprio's best film last year.

    The post was ironic, you mentioned the word flatulent, which is what I was being also, in honour of the Matrix, and Inception. I used post 2 as a jump off point, as I noticed the man/magazine and was amused by it. It struck me that in the interest of entertainment, the man/magazine was present, like in films ridiculousness is present, and we should take movies mostly for what they are which is a rule Mark chooses when to adhere to.

    I wouldn't go and see them, but they should make sequels, in 3D, and they should call them Inception Revitalised, and Inception Regurgitated. I wonder if there would be any complaint from Dr K?

    P.s By the end I just got carried away finding meaning in the man/magazine on tube (see post 2). Noah and his Whale have hit out at pretention in writing, (see advert for philosophy on back of LBR, but not on back of 442 or Q because people who do things other than read 24/7 are incapable of such thoughts). I know, it's tenuous.

    P.P.S I liked V for Vendetta also

    P.P.P.S Does that explain?!?

  • Comment number 18.

    @Luke Curtis and @Jacob

    I don't think there's an inconsistency at all, because it comes down to the intentions behind remaking or re-adapting the works. With Brighton Rock (from what I've seen of it and heard about it) it seems like a genuine attempt to reapproach the original source and take a number of interesting creative decisions with regard to staging it. Regardless of whether those decisions work, the film deserves some form of admiration for doing those things with the right intentions.

    Let Me In, on the other hand, is made with the intention of cashing in on the Twilight series by remaking a brilliant film for people who are too stupid to read subtitles. All the bits of it that worked were identical to the original, and all the bits that didn't were where Matt Reeves attempted to dumb down the story or add stuff that would bring in the gore crowd. The remake of Let The Right One In is little more than a cash cow - and a failed cash cow at that, considering that it barely broke even.

  • Comment number 19.

  • Comment number 20.

    @Jay Furneaux

    Whilst not anything like a remake of Brighton Rock, one contemporary film that hints at the evil underbelly of Brighton Rock was Paul Andrew Willimas' London to Brighton (2006). The leading characters can be seen as approximations of theose in Greene's story - Derek the pimp as Pinky, Kelly an amalgamation of Rosa and Ida, and Joanne another part of Rosa.

    Brighton Rock reflected what was in the 1940s a depraved underworld that few people knew existed in a world populated by cinematic visions of propriety. Compared to these Brighton Rock was dark and dirty, just as London to Brighton is today.

  • Comment number 21.

    Mark Kermode writes "A stellar cast that includes Sam Riley, Angela Riseborough and Helen Mirren (not to mention the great Phil Davis) look fantastic in the seedy seaside setting..."

    ANGELA Riseborough??????????????

  • Comment number 22.

    GRAHAM Greene, not Graeme Greene. Or is this yet another stand by Dr. Kermode's against the evils of American spelling, à la "Terminator 2: Judgment Day"? ;-)

  • Comment number 23.

    Top Tip: Watch Quadrophenia with the colour turned down. Makes for a much better experience in B&W.

  • Comment number 24.

    I am doing an essay on for my literture into film module in uni and have decided to do brighton Rock. My question is Compare and contrast two adaptations of the same source that are at least ten years apart from each other. What do the differences between the adaptations reveal or suggest?- So i have decided to narrow it down to religion and i need to discuss the cultural implications of why each source portrays it the way it does. I was hoping to start a bit of a discussion with you all as you all seem interested on the subject and would be good to hear peoples ideas. Its hard because greene's novel can easily be read as an anti catholic novel. Also in the original film i think the intensity of catholicism is lost a bit but i think thats more to do with censorship.

  • Comment number 25.

    And the new Brighon Rock...Obviously its a film made now but set in 1964 where there was still a fair amount of practising catholics so thats one reason for it being set when it is. Do you think Joffe was right to focus on catholic when its not as relevant/identifiable now? just a few thoughts would be great!thanks!- sorry wouldnt let mew post it all at once!


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