Hearing the news that John Boulting’s classic 1946 adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel Brighton Rock was to be remade filled with me trepidation. The current spate of mostly inferior remakes are one thing but meddling with the perfection of this archetypical gangster film is another. How can any updated version possibly replace the indelible image of the 23 year old Richard Attenborough as the flick knife wielding baby faced assassin Pinkie Brown? As filming began and rumours of a 1960s Mods and Rockers setting emerged I began to have serious doubts if this remake was really going to be a good idea!
Thankfully fears that Rowan Joffe’s Brighton Rock is a sanitised version of the story are quickly allayed. The relocation of Brighton Rock to the 1960s does not mean that we are entering into the trendy youth culture of the era or being taken on an adolescent search for identity. The sharp-suited posers and greasy leather clad Rockers are merely a backdrop to a much darker reality as we are taken into a terrifying world of crime, guilt and inner-torment.
Brighton Rock is concerned with the concepts of good versus evil, sin and redemption they were present in Greene’s novel, the 1946 adaptation and once again are central in Rowan Joffe’s remake. However, additional scenes and alterations to the 2010 update mean that Pinkie’s progressively violent behaviour is almost justified. In the exhilarating opening sequence Pinkie witnesses the brutal murder of the gang’s original leader Kite when Fred Hale slashes his throat. When Pinkie sees one of the few role models in his life burbling and drowning in his own blood revenge it seems is not only on the cards but unavoidable. This kind of black and white, eye for an eye, morality detracts from the original story where Pinkie Brown’s vicious streak appeared to be innate and a product of original sin. The character of Ida Arnold (Dame Helen Mirren) also has undergone a significant adjustment. In opposition to the Catholicism of Pinkie and Rose the pleasure seeking Ida was concerned only with the here and now. Mirren’s portrayal plays these aspects down resulting in a more serious role and a lessening of the story’s theological study.
As with Attenborough before him Sam Riley’s Pinkie is intense, dangerous and teeters on the edge of sanity. If anything in Joffe’s adaptation Pinkie Brown undergoes a broader transformation than before as greater emphasis being placed upon his journey from a nervous lackey to maniacal gang leader. Unfortunately the 30 year old Riley he does not resemble a juvenile delinquent. Therefore the shy adolescent awkwardness that Pinkie displays towards adulthood and in particular his relationship with Rose, (conveyed so expertly by Attenborough,) is absent.
Andrea Riseborough gives an outstanding performance as Rose she too goes on a psychological journey from being a naive and mousey youngster to an assertive young woman attracted to Pinkie’s confidence and menace. The scene in which Pinkie in effect buys Rose from her abusive father for £150 adds a social realist dimension to the film uncovering the lack of options available to a young working-class woman in ‘sixties Britain. The squalid surroundings of Pinkie and Rose’s flat complete with peeling wallpaper, scuffed furniture and squeaky floorboards are also reminiscent of a Kitchen Sink drama. There is some impressive cinematography by John Mathieson as the camera pans from the threatening crashing waves on Brighton Beach to the scenic seaside cafés foreshadowing the storm that is building. The swelling orchestral soundtrack also adds to the heightened sense of panic and drama. The tea rooms, arcades and dancehalls of 1960s Brighton are also accurately recreated as are the neglected interiors of the boarding houses. And yet…
There is something oddly unreal about Joffe’s Brighton Rock partly down to the unnecessary time shift which does nothing but confuse the audience. The film’s characters seem stuck in the wrong era originating as they do from austere post-war Britain both in appearance and behaviour. Using the Mods and Rockers backdrop and casting of Philip Davis, (who appeared in Quadrophenia,) as Spicer turns the movie into a pastiche of sorts leaving us with a souped-up hyperreality. This is Brighton as seen through the eyes of the cinemagoer not the world of Graham Greene’s novel. Dark, menacing and suspenseful Rowan Joffe’s Brighton Rock is well worth seeing it is just unfortunate that the film is not as good as the sum of its parts.