Up The Junction (1968)
Director: Peter Collinson
Starring: Suzy Kendall, Dennis Waterman, Maureen Lipman
Release date: January 25 (UK). I have finally escaped the German war effort and landed ‘darn Sarf’ in a grotty corner of the Old Smoke for a spot of social drama this time. May contain jellied eels and spoilers…
A posh girl from Chelsea goes looking for work in Battersea and likes it so much she moves into the area and… well, that’s about it really. I’ve no idea what it was like in swinging 1960’s Battersea but I’ll hazard a guess and say Up The Junction isn’t too far off the mark. In fact, the characters here are nicely observed. The chocolate factory where Polly (Suzy Kendall) lands a job is a cacophony of girl talk (eyes peeled for Susan George) with a few in-yer-face close-ups to shove you into the conversation, you feel involved. And the motor-mouth blather fits the environment, not like the stylised nattering in something like Death Proof. Actually, that’s a ridiculous example to use, but what I’m trying to say is the chicks yap away in Death Proof but it just sounds like clever-clever script and not something they would likely say. Accepted, it’s no doubt meant to be clever, but it sounds flat-out smug. In Up The Junction you’ll still find an “Allo darlin” and a “bladdy marvellous” but these phrases aren’t a cliché really, they’ve become known as such through scores of accent imitators.
As a piece of social commentary the film lacks a sharp edge, a specific target. It works as an observation of 60’s suburbia but no more than that. Polly’s reasons for moving to Battersea are slight to say the least. This poor little rich girl feels stifled by her pampered existence. She appears to be unhappy about being wadded, feels there’s nobody genuine in her circle of family and friends, it’s all just airs and graces; “It’s more real (in Battersea), more natural.” The problem with all of this in an almost two-hour film, we see plenty of run-down Battersea but nothing of Polly’s world. We don’t see what’s pushing her in this direction; there’s no reason for her defection, no obvious familial strain – not that there has to be but I feel there’s a vacuum in the film where motivation should really be giving us a head’s-up. For ‘us’ read ‘me’ – everyone else is probably happy with what’s presented!
Polly’s acclimatisation is handled well. She styles her hair to fit in and she buys a shabby flat that even her new mates turn their nose up at – y’know, why flop here when she can afford something better? By the end of the film she’s talking the talk – “Flash bugger!” On the other hand Pete (Dennis Waterman), her new boyfriend dreams of escaping his grim surroundings, living in a castle, driving an Aston Martin. He delivers a caustic commentary on Battersea life that contradicts Polly’s romantic vision of her new neighbourhood. He can’t believe her: “Do you think that’s beautiful?” She asks him as the sun sets over Battersea. “No, not really,” is Pete’s nonplussed reply. He is equally aghast when she talks of gaining her freedom at last: “Freedom? Come to Battersea for freedom?” Waterman’s tone is great. Sadly, though he loves Polly, he sees her as his golden ticket out of this poxy existence. He is incensed by what he perceives as her guilt about having plenty of money. If you’ve got it, spend it, don’t be ashamed of it.
Stand-outs here are Maureen Lipman and Adrienne Posta as the sisters, Sylvie and Rube. They both put in authentic performances. I didn’t know Lipman was ever in anything like this; I only know her from the British Telecom TV commercials in the 1980’s! She’s very good. There’s a scene, a street fracas, when Sylvie gets thumped off her estranged husband. “Never mind, lav,” says a helper, picking her up off the floor. “Keep never minding. It’s only for life, innit,” Sylvie replies, blooded and abject. It’s the sound of a woman who knows her place; this is all she’s ever going to be. I’m kind of confused, is that what director Collinson is saying? You should be happy being poor because money only makes you more miserable? Honestly, it really, really does, so best stay where you are and dream of Camelot and castles and Aston Martins – but there’s a social order and don’t you forget it. We belong here; you belong over there and never the twain shall meet.
Rube on the other hand ends up preggers, I think Terry (Michael Gothard) is the father. For moral support she gets Polly to go with her having decided to get a back-street abortion. It’s nightmarish, just a shop presided over by a truly hideous woman, delivering a tasteless quip in a loving tight shot. She’s played perfectly by Hylda Baker, a comedienne whose shtick was malapropisms (which happens to be a favourite of mine; I never tire of doing those at work). It’s a rude awakening for Polly who runs off for a walk in the park – all soft focus solitude, Manfred Mann’s gentle psychedelia on the soundtrack, swans gliding across a lake… all the while you know what’s going on in a grubby room above the shop. Terry himself doesn’t fair too well in a game of ‘chicken’ with another vehicle later on. Pete’s philosophical at the outcome, comforting Polly; “Cheer up. It’s one of them fings…” – like it happens every day.
They overuse Manfred Mann on the soundtrack, some of it comes across as a platform for them to noodle away. The best example of that is when Polly wanders around the factory yard on her break, absorbing her new world, the people, the chatter – it’s all for Manfred Mann. Coupled with a ‘musical’ interlude from Sylvie and Rube in the pub I was thinking ‘too much’. I did like the title tune though, interesting song structure. Meself, I kept hearing Pulp’s Common People in my own head.
I’m not sure what use the inversion serves. We all aspire to live comfortably, no money worries; Polly goes in reverse to no obvious gain. She thinks it’s all lovely but by the end her suburban idyll has crashed down around her ears and I can easily see her, post credits, sneaking back to Chelsea tail-tucked and with Pete’s words echoing in her ears; “You wanted to see life. You’ve seen it.” The rich don’t envy the poor after all.
Overall it’s well acted and at times unflinchingly scripted. But it doesn’t justify the running time and it’s not sharp enough to nail the social comment. There may be no message beyond ‘misguided girl who thinks she’s got it tough but doesn’t realise how good she’s got it’. The End.
I’ll give Up The Junction 2 Power Stations out of 5.
ThereWolf, February 2012
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