Sunday, 16 July 2017

THE LEIGH SPENCE MOMENT: THE BED SITTING ROOM


37. “God bless Mrs Ethel Shroake, long live Mrs Ethel Shroake...”



16/07/2017




I don’t think I was meant to confirm what a feature film’s plot was by watching the trailer, straight after ninety minutes spent watching the film, but I am glad I did.

In the trailer, Frank Thornton, playing all that is left of the BBC, delivers what was the “last news” – he wears a dinner jacket, and seen through the frame of a television, but only the frame is left, and the only the top part of his suit hasn’t been ripped away. It has been three, or four, years since the “Nuclear Misunderstanding,” or World War III, which lasted for 2 minutes 28 sessions, including the signing of the peace treaty. The rest of the trailer shows scenes from the film, as Thornton continues in a trailer-only voiceover that links together details: only twenty people are left in the UK, including a one-man NHS, played by Marty Feldman; a man on a bicycle that generates all the electricity, including powering a train on London Underground’s Circle Line; the Queen’s former charlady is now monarch, being next left in line for the throne; and Peter Cook and Dudley Moore as the police, always telling people to keep moving. Nuclear fallout is also causing some people to mutate, resulting in turning an upper-class lord into a bed sitting room.


Of course, the film does have all the above, but it is all in bits – it plays like a collection of sketches, with a through line that involves a family whose daughter has been pregnant for seventeen months but, after reaching the surface from their refuge on the Circle Line, and being subjected to the harsh surroundings and bizarre people, Mother becomes a wardrobe, and Father becomes a parrot, later eaten because there is no food.

To say this all came from the mind of Spike Milligan, co-writer of the original play with John Antrobus, should not surprise anyone. The play was partly improvised, and director Richard Lester employed his usual scriptwriter, Charles Wood, to construct a plot that had to be set in stone. However, this is still “The Goon Show” as written by Samuel Beckett, an absurdist piece with something to say about the tendency to “keep calm and carry on” in the face of annihilation, given a British spin by continuing its institutions as well – everyone keeps their hierarchies, positions and class in police, even when there is only one of each of them.


What is most amazing about this film, apart from the gallows humour, is the scenery. There was a production designer, and there are “remnants” of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Albert Memorial, but the mud, decay and detritus were all real, coming from a disused quarry, a pile of rejected plates sited next to a pottery firm, and the rubbish-strewn mess of the London Underground required no set dressing at all.

In short, for those who do not have the stomach for later depictions of a post-apocalyptic world – 1980s timepieces like “Threads” and “The Day After,” when the world really was in trouble – “The Bed Sitting Room” might have the humour to move you along, but you are left in no doubt that you are watching a kind of tragedy.

2 comments:

  1. I personally prefer the war game made in the 60s

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    1. I can see why, the only difference was I could get to the end of "The Bed Sitting Room" without despairing.

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