Dir: Ken Russell, 1971
Writer and director Ken Russell was very inconsistent with his films. He could bounce off a smash hit straight into a one of the biggest flood in his career, only to hit it big again.
His success as a filmmaker, has divided critics since he first picked up a camera. Nearly all of his work is hit and miss and, seldom, has anybody caused the furore that his output has.
Loved and loathed in equal measure, the one thing that nobody can deny is that Russell left an impact on the film industry that will, forever, be talked about and debated.
After a series of ‘X’ certificate films, culminating with his very heavy and very polarising The Devils, Russell tried his hand at something that is totally at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Based on Sandy Wilson’s 1954 musical of the same name, Russell’s adaptation is as lively and every bit as madcap as all his other films but with a ‘U’ certificate.
The Boy Friend is ideal for Russell’s idiosyncratic style and flair for theatrics. His films always play out like a theatre performance, so this is an opportunity for him to go anywhere he likes.
Having said that, The Boy Friend feels a tad disjointed and erratic. The British director has always had trouble creating anything cohesive. Delighting in what he can show, Russell often goes awry with scenes of fantasy that make very little sense. Well, this is no different.
Sixties supermodel, Twiggy, makes her screen debut (apart from a fleeting, blink and you’ll miss cameo in the director’s earlier The Devils) as shy stage assistant, Polly. Brandishing a rather unimpressive cockney accent, Twiggy’s name is more of a comment on her acting skills, rather than being ridiculously thin. Yet, it’s incredibly difficult to criticise the erstwhile model, as anyone can see that a lot of training and rehearsing went into the role and she is quite nimble in the dance routines.
Cast with many of Russell’s regulars, like Georgina Hale, Murray Melvin and an uncredited Glenda Jackson, the movie is a showcase of British talent. Also featuring much loved stars of stage screen, such as Bryan Pringle, Max Adrian and Barbara Windsor, The Boy Friend is an index of top talent.
However, it’s on for far too long and Russell’s indulgences tend to grate after a while. The plot becomes very convoluted and, eventually, you become unsure of which is reality and which is the performance. Or is it all part of the performance? Is it all fantasy? It is this incoherency that mars the valiant effort. The theatrics and costumes, are highly impressive and, it’s clear, that an enormous amount of work went into it all. Unfortunately, it’s let down by the direction and editing.
Some of the songs are pretty catchy, and capture the 1920’s feel. Eventually, the film runs out of steam and humour, causing the film to drag, damaging the movie as a whole.
As it’s a Ken Russell movie, you can expect high camp and over the top performances. Here, they work for the film instead of against it, as can be the case.
Enjoyable for the first half, with the second letting everything down.
I might be being very unfair, as I’ve never seen or heard the original production. Because of this, I can’t compare how much of a resemblance to Wilson’s play Russell’s adaptation is. Everything that is in the film, may be in the original exhibition. The truth is, I just don’t know.
At the end of the day, Ken Russell is a love him or loathe him director, making his films hard to recommend.
If you like Busby Berkeley-style numbers, give it a shot. Others, may want to avoid.