Straight On Till Morning

Straight On Till Morning

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Opening with grim urban vistas that immediately conjure up the kitchen sink dramas for which Britain was famous at the time, Straight On Till Morning is a very different film from Hammer that shocked their fans partly because what it goes on to portray is more horrible than any of the monsters with which they had built their reputation. It's a story of obsession, dangerous romance, desperate people and still more desperate acts, a story full of real cruelty and pain. But it's also incredibly funny, full of sly observational humour and a biting critique of modern love.

Rita Tushingham is wonderful as Brenda, the awkward northern teenager who lies to her mother that she's pregnant so she can run off to London and hunt for a man who will give her the baby she longs for. Unfortunately, though we're only just out of the Swinging Sixties, the men she smiles at hopefully at bus stops and on park benches just don't seem interested in dating her, or even in having casual sex. It's true that she's not pretty, and that her taste in clothes is awful, and that she's socially clueless and quickly surrounded by much more glamorous, sophisticated people, but still her plight is a sorry one. Surely there must be somebody out there who will love her for who she is..? Of course there is. And meeting him is the worst move she'll ever make.

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The problem with the social changes taking place in London in that era is that they were great for some people but painfully exclusive of others. At one end of the scale, Brenda just can't get most men to look at her twice. At the other is a strange young man, Peter (Shane Briant), whose beauty has made him a commodity others are keen to exploit. Hurt by his experiences of this, he has grown into something monstrous, something determined to destroy all that is beautiful. In Brenda's ugliness and easy submission he sees his one chance for real happiness - but only if he can keep his secrets from her or persuade her to love him despite them.

Pitched as a routine story of a young woman getting caught up with a dangerous man, this is actually something much smarter, as Brenda's obsession with motherhood might itself be seen as a sort of psychosis; likewise the stalking behaviour with which she initially approaches Peter. At times it's not entirely clear which of them is most at risk from the other, which makes the fragile romance between them all the more intriguing. When watching it today it's worth remembering that attitudes to domestic violence were very different when it was made, and Peter's routine dominance of Brenda, sometimes extending to physical bullying, was a challenging thing to present onscreen. It's still difficult to watch in places and gives the rather melodramatic storyline an ugly grounding in reality.

Enlivening this rather uncomfortable narrative is Peter Collinson's energetic direction, perfectly capturing nuances of mood and expression, from the sexual flirtations that bypass Brenda's untrained eye to the giallo-esque moments of Peter's breakdowns. It gives the film a wit and fluidity that carries it effortlessly between scenes of violence. Collinson shows that he can easily evoke the council estate drama look only to turn it on its head and shift genres in the process. As a result, we are never quite sure what kind of film we're watching - horror or romance, comedy or tragedy. Though it may never quite overcome the crudity of its underlying narrative, this is a delightfully clever film with a surprising amount to say, and Tushingham's powerful performance means it carries real emotional weight.

Reviewed on: 31 Dec 2009
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Straight On Till Morning packshot
An awkward young woman with a secret agenda meets a beautiful young man who is concealing something still more dangerous.
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Director: Peter Collinson

Writer: John Peacock

Starring: Rita Tushingham, Shane Briant, Katya Wyeth, James Bolam,

Year: 1972

Runtime: 96 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

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