Sunday, 23 October 2011

The Reckoning - NICOL WILLIAMSON-Actor

Released 1969

Directed by Jack Gold

Uber-macho executive Michael Marler, hrr-umphs his car over the Westway into the washed-out City of London financial district. Behind him lie the awful compromises born from living with a trophy wife in stock-broker belt Virginia Water. Before him he gazes up at the steel and glass world where the game of work unfolds. This is the only world that counts:

"On your way up Marler?", asks the boss in the lift.
"One below you sir", he quips.

Midway through a Machiavellian board room plot about "computers" he receives a call from "up north" prompting him to hurtle up the M6 to a Liverpool halfway between depression and all out demolition. It's a grim broken brick terrace, pram-pushing, Beatle-neglected reality. Here he finds the women of his forgotten family, grimly holding vigil over a dying father. The pubs are full of acned youths in leather, wizened Irish Republican-exiles and women puffing on fags, faces filled with Woolworths mascara. And it's here that Michael Marler in an electrifying performance by Shakespearean actor Nicol Williamson learns a few home truths that force a detour to his more obvious ambitions.

Nicol Williamson - in the words of John Osborne,  "The greatest actor since Brando" 
The secular world of commerce is left behind as the prodigal son plunges back into his spiritual home. Family wrongs are in need of being righted and the burden of responsibility is all his. In between he finds Rachel Roberts who entices him to cheap thrills behind paisley curtains and an apres l'amour like "two dollops of steam duff". To a man who eats bacon sandwiches when he gets home from a night-out dining on partridge, she's a woman he could love.

This cathartic episode propels him back to "that" London where he ensures everything must change so everything can stay the same. On his first morning back he memorably destroys a little man from HR for placing a toff into an unsuitable provincial position.

"Have you ever been to Grimsby?", he screams, re-taking the reins.

The north like a shot in the arm, flows through his veins, pushing him headlong into conflict. It's a one-way track he can't avoid and like the jumped red lights and bent traffic cones, he leaves chaos in his wake.

The film plays out like a white-heat of technology post-script to "Room at The Top". There's a dash of the yet to be released "Get Carter" and strong echoes of  "Charlie Bubbles'". Fast moving, thought provoking and evocative, this is one of those brave character-driven British films that were being made before the money ran out. In the 1970's things like this were down-sized for television on "Play for Today" before Thatcher (aided and abetted by the likes of Michael Gove in the right-wing press) would blast them off the schedules forever.

A long way from Tipperary, J.G.Devlin as Cocky Burke
Alan Bleasdale would cast J.G. Devlin, the actor who plays Marler's father's best friend, in an almost identical role for his 1985 film "No Surrender". Marler meets him in the below club scene as they make themsleves heard over an Irish Show Band playing Goffin & King. Ubiquitous character actor Joe Gladwin is also spotted in this clip firmly reminding the viewer that they are now witnessing "the north". Within minutes he would gleefully win at bingo, get drunk watching a wrestling bout, pour his pint down a woman's front and prompt a mass brawl. I think someone should put that on You Tube.

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