The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - I START COUNTING | The Movie Waffler


i start counting review
A teenage girl suspects her half-brother, with whom she is smitten, of being responsible for a series of murders.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: David Greene

Starring: Jenny Agutter, Bryan Marshall, Clare Sutcliffe, Simon Ward, Gregory Phillips, Lana Morris

i start counting poster

British director David Greene is perhaps best known for his work in American television, helming such iconic mini-series as Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man. Along with the likes of John Llewellyn Moxey and Jimmy Sangster, he's another British talent lost to the US TV production line thanks to the decline of the UK film industry in the 1970s. But for a brief period he was quietly establishing himself as a filmmaker of note in his home country with films like The Shuttered Room, Sebastian, The Strange Affair and the newly restored I Start Counting, one of the more intriguing thrillers of the era, thanks largely to a striking turn from a young Jenny Agutter.

i start counting review

Adapted by screenwriter Richard Harris from Audrey Erskine Lindop's novel, this 1969 film stars Agutter as Wynne, a 14-year-old adoptee who recently moved with her family to a newly erected block of flats in one of the many "New Towns" that were springing up in Southern England in the mid 20th century. Wynne is madly in love with her 32-year-old step-brother George (Bryan Marshall), for whom she would do anything. Her allegiance to George is tested when she begins to suspect him of being responsible for a recent spate of murders of young women in the area.

Finding a blood-stained cardigan thrown in the bin by George, and learning that he's been lying about where he spends his free time, Wynne goes into Nancy Drew mode to find out what her step-brother is up to. As the evidence appears to mount in the case against George, Wynne grows increasingly torn over whether to turn him in or protect him. Meanwhile, other possible suspects are posited in the form of Wynne's other older step-brother Len (Gregory Phillips), a true crime obsessive who keeps newspaper clippings related to the killings, and a creepy young bus conductor (Simon Ward) who scolds Wynne for the shortness of her skirt while simultaneously leering at her legs.

i start counting review

This era of British filmmaking saw a spate of psychological thrillers that suggested the swinging sixties was entering the hangover period of the '70s. Rather than mummies, wolfmen and vampires, the villains of these movies were handsome young men with the sort of faces that adorned teenage girls' bedroom walls. You might theorise that this was something of a conservative reaction by older filmmakers who resented the fun young people had been having in a decade of mass social and cultural revolution, with mini-skirted young women butchered by long-haired pretty boys. But given what we now know about the likes of Jimmy Saville, Jonathan King et al, perhaps they were onto something. The three primary suspects here are all played by actors whom you could picture forming a beat combo together. At a time when young people had recently developed a profound mistrust of their elders, it must have been quite jarring for films to suggest danger lurked among their peers.

I Start Counting combines its thriller aspects with a coming-of-age drama, and as the latter it's rather sweet and often amusing. Much comedy is mined from Wynne's innocence, such as her grilling of an embarrassed priest on the Church's view of incest. Agutter perfectly captures Wynne's contradictory mix of naivete and precociousness. Like many teens, Wynne is torn between wanting to grow up and enter the adult world while wishing to retain the innocence of childhood. The latter is represented by her old family home on the outskirts of town, which she frequently visits, trying to keep it clean despite the wrecking ball edging ever closer to its destruction. There, Wynne recalls happier times in flashbacks, but also a disturbing incident involving a girlfriend of George's that she now links to his new life as a serial killer.

i start counting review

That wrecking ball isn't just coming for Wynne's old home, it's about to turn the '60s into rubble too. I Start Counting seems to know that the party is over, that troubling times lie ahead for Britain, with its film industry but one victim to come. Even the weather is notably nicer in British films from the '60s than those made during the constantly overcast '70s. With its scenes set in rowdy coffee bars and record shops with psychedelic music blasting from listening booths, I Start Counting is something of a time capsule of an era coming to an end. Despite how remarkable she is here and in other youthful turns in the likes of The Railway Children and Walkabout, Agutter never quite got the career she deserved (partly due to the dearth of good female roles in '70s cinema), and like Wynne, I hope she cherished this period as I Start Counting might be her finest work.

New interviews with Jenny Agutter and screenwriter Richard Harris; featurette on the work of composer Basil Kirchin; three shorts from the BFI archive on New Towns; Danger on Dartmoor - a 1980 Children's Film Foundation movie scripted by Audrey Erskine Lindop; Don't Be Like Brenda - a cautionary 1973 short on teenage promiscuity; video essay by Chris O'Neill; feature commentary by film historian Samm Deighan; trailer; image gallery.

I Start Counting
 is on blu-ray from BFI on April 19th.