Although comparisons to John Boulting’s 1947 adaptation of Brighton Rock are inevitable, this film still deserves to be judged in its own right as a separate and new interpretation of the classic Graham Green novel. However, this rehash of the story of young charismatic murderer Pinkie, here played by Sam Riley, and his dangerous relationship with a tearoom waitress is so terrible you’ll be wishing they’d just left everything be.
The action is updated to the 1960s, with the backdrop of mods, rockers and violent biker clashes, though this change of period adds nothing new to the doomed love story. Although we get a sense of Brighton being ‘on the move’ with the atmosphere of shifting social politics, this feels more of a distraction than a clever reinvention. The romance between Pinkie and the nervous Rose is played out with all the panache and passion of a GCSE drama-class improvisation.
Sam Riley is a terrific actor, though is here short-changed with a script which makes it sound as if he’s chewing carpet rather than bringing Green’s terrifying creation to life. Instead of coming across as menacing and sinister, most of the time he looks like a moody teenager who’s just got his third ASBO. Andrea Riseborough, who was so good in TV dramas such as Party Animals and The Devil’s Whore, tries to convince us the infatuated Rose is either mentally-challenged or continually stoned. Her performance is embarrassing, as is the film’s attempt at cultivating a sense of suspense through close-ups of characters looking angry while clutching at bleeding facial wounds. The action is also encumbered with a grating and relentless score by Martin Phipps who, though contributing sumptuous music for The Line of Beauty and The Virgin Queen, seems to have drawn his inspiration from the more hysterical choral tracks from the soundtrack of The Da Vinci Code. The result is hammed-up melodrama and unintended hilarity.
Helen Mirren, as Rose’s boss and self-elected protector, does her very best with a lazily written role, though all she really does is walk around confidently like a Dame on a mission, as if primed for an imminent slow motion shot, and spit out lines like “I’ll make you suffa!”
The story has been done much better before and probably will be again, and all we can do is hope that this painfully cringe-worthy mistake will someday be forgotten.
Good: Mirren is always fun to watch, and less demanding viewers may derive romantic fulfilment from the depressing love story
Bad: The dire script leads to some embarrassing acting you wouldn’t expect from a BBC production.