Photo by Nicolas Gerardin

John Michael McDonagh

The screenwriter and director of War on Everyone, The Guard and Cavalry picks MelodyThat’ll Be The DayA Kind of LovingBilly Liar, DarlingFar From The Madding Crowd and Dead of Night.

To anyone who grew up in London in the Seventies, Waris Hussein’s Melody (1971) will be a massive shot to the arm of pure nostalgia. The appearance of prefabs in the background of an early scene brought back memories of my childhood growing up in Elephant & Castle. Even the colour of the brick work evokes a Proustian rush. A melancholy film understatedly directed by Waris Hussein, with a lovely script from Alan Parker and sweet performances across the board from the young actors and the great Roy Kinnear as a good-natured ex-con, Melody was the first film produced by David Puttnam.

Puttnam was also responsible for the productions on That’ll Be the Day (1973) and its sequel, Stardust (1974). I have no hesitation in crediting That’ll Be the Day as the only truly existentialist film ever made in the UK, with David Essex’s Jim MacLaine its appalling and unrepentant Meursault. It’s a film whose resonance has been cruelly underrated in the history of British film.

Revisiting the work of John Schlesinger has been a particular delight as he was clearly one of the finest of British directors, a point perhaps overshadowed by his later collusion with the Tory regime. A Kind of Loving (1962), Billy Liar (1963) and Darling (1965) are all beautifully performed, shot and framed. The Bank Holiday favourite Far from the Madding Crowd (1967) is a little more stolid, but is redeemed by breathtaking cinematography from Nicolas Roeg and a A-list cast at the top of their game, the standout being Terence Stamp’s mercurial Sergeant Troy.

The Blu-rays of the above include better-than-average extras: A Kind of Loving has Schelsinger’s excellent documentary on a day in the life of Waterloo Station, Terminus (1961); the filmmaker Richard Ayoade contributes an interesting interview to Billy Liar, although, strangely, he appears to have been sobbing all day prior to recording; and the aforementioned Stamp, with screenwriter Frederic Raphael, provide amusing and insightful recollections on the making of Far from the Madding Crowd.

Dead of Night (1945), of course, remains one of the greatest British films ever made, but they really should’ve cut the golfing sequence.

Recommended Titles

Charles Crichton, Alberto Cavalcanti, Basil Dearden & Robert Hamer1945
John Schlesinger1965
John Schlesinger1963
Claude Whattham1973
Michael Apted1974
Waris Hussein1971
John Schlesinger1967
John Schlesinger1962