The Movie Waffler ReRelease Review - WEST 11 | The Movie Waffler

ReRelease Review - WEST 11

west 11 review
A listless young man considers murder to escape his malaise.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Michael Winner

Starring: Alfred Lynch, Kathleen Breck, Eric Portman, Diana Dors, Kathleen Harrison

west 11 bluray

The late Michael Winner would probably have been the first to admit he was a journeyman hack, but in the mid 1960s he threatened to break into the ranks of the British New Wave with a handful of semi-respectable social realist dramas.

After a string of b-movies, usually with "Cool" in the title (Some Like it Cool, Play it Cool, The Cool Mikado), Winner received a significant break when Joseph Losey walked away from directing an adaptation of Laura Del-Rivo's novel 'The Furnished Room'. Winner was chosen by the producers likely because he was a fast, efficient worker, but he turned in a movie that captures pre-Beatles/Stones England with as much verisimilitude as Richardson, Reisz or Schlesinger.

west 11 review

West 11 drops us into Notting Hill in 1963, a landscape of Regency houses divided up into shoddy bedsits, whose tenants spend their evenings in jazz clubs and cafés to stay warm and avoid the rodents. Joe Beckett (Alfred Lynch) is one such denizen of the borough, a listless young man drifting through life in search of something to shake him out of his existential malaise.

Fired for insubordination from his job at a tailor's, Beckett is approached by Richard Dyce (Eric Portman), a shady ex-army officer who claims to like the cut of Beckett's jib. Dyce tries to convince the young man to murder Dyce's rich aunt for her inheritance, which he'll split with Beckett, who turns down his proposal immediately. But as he drifts through a grey and dreary '60s London that hasn't begun to swing just yet, Beckett begins to give some thought to the idea.

west 11 review

Beckett isn't so much an angry young man as an apathetic one. Nothing seems to phase him, from losing his girlfriend (Kathleen Breck) and his job to being kicked out of his crummy lodgings. He seems resigned to his fate, yet can't see that his troubles are of his own making. At this time, authors like Del-Rivo and Colin Wilson were pushing a pretentious form of libertarianism, drawing heavily from Aleister Crowley's "Do what thou will shall be the whole of the law" creed. There's a narcissism to Beckett's self-pity, which causes as much trouble for those around him as for himself. So filled with self-loathing is Beckett that it's difficult to care about which turn he takes at the moral crossroads he faces, and the film certainly doesn't care about his potential victim. Many viewers may even be rooting for Beckett to get his comeuppance by the end.

I've always felt that if you want to get a true picture of a time and place, don’t watch movies made by auteurs in that time and place but rather those made by journeymen. The auteur will paint a picture through their own lens, while the journeyman will simply capture what's in front of them. That's the case with West 11, which sees Winner capture a warts and all presentation of Notting Hill, then the sort of slum Richard Curtis wouldn't dream of setting a rom-com in. Winner's camera follows Beckett through bedsits reeking of damp, down to basement jazz clubs, past fascist rallies and wrecking balls finishing the job the Luftwaffe started on London two decades earlier. It's hard to believe that in a matter of months this glum Northern European metropolis would become the pop culture capital of the world for the rest of the decade, and it's even harder to picture men like Beckett turning on and tuning out. But then, I guess the drugs might have helped.

west 11 review

It's fitting that Beckett has an encounter with a young thug played by David Hemmings - who would later embody swinging sixties London as the photographer anti-hero of that ultimate time capsule of the period, Antonioni's Blow-Up – as it feels like a scuffle between young London's present and future. Beckett wins this bout, but it's a war he'll ultimately lose.

Perhaps what's most interesting about West 11 is the tug of war between Dyce and Beckett. The former is clinging to past glories of WWII, even if you get the sense his war record is 90% bluster, while the latter is desperate for something new to arrive. Beckett is about to get his wish, but in this post-war Britain neither men can find a footing. Dyce mourns the fact that the next war will likely be fought with nuclear weapons, denying young men the experiences of comradeship he believes shaped him. Beckett seems quite happy for the bomb to fall right on his head and put him out of his misery. Anyone expecting a gripping thriller might want to be put out of their own misery while watching the dreary West 11, but those who can appreciate it as a document of a forgotten period of London history while find value in Winner's film.

West 11 is on UK blu-ray, DVD and digital from July 5th.