Spun-off from the British Film Theatre’s unmissable (assuming you live in London that is) monthly Flipside film screenings, this new DVD/Blu-ray label is designed to “revisit and reappraise British films that have slipped through the cracks of cinema history.” Judging by first release The Bed Sitting Room (1969), we’re in for a fun ride.
Opening on the remnants of a post-apocalyptic London, the camera panning across rivers of nuclear waste and the rotting remnants of human habitation, we’re soon introduced to Lord Fortnum (Ralph Richardson) who is concerned he may soon turn into a bed-sitting room, Captain Bules Martin (Michael Hordern) and the BBC (a young looking Frank Thornton).
Elsewhere, young Penelope (Rita Tushingham) is seventeen months pregnant and living on the London Underground with her father (Arthur Lowe), mother and boyfriend.
When the family end up out in the real world, Penelope tries to seek solace for her and her baby as the world goes increasingly insane around her.
Based on a one-act play by ex-Goon Spike Milligan and John Antrobus, there’s little sense that director Richard Lester had much control over the bizarre happenings, his film filled with the type of actors who appear to need little more direction than the word “Action!” to turn in a good performance.
As well as the brilliant Hordern, one look from whom says more than a page of dialogue ever could, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Marty Feldman, Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Jimmy Edwards drift in and out of scenes, each threatening to out act the other.
While ludicrous moments pepper the film – Penelope’s mother being declared dead before turning into a wardrobe, Feldman roaming the landscape dressed as a nurse called the National Health Service, Pete and Dud turning up as policemen in a hot air balloon – the savage anti-war message intended by Milligan does filter through.
Although dismissed by critics on it original release, The Bed-Sitting Room has more to say about the absurdity of war and politics than many of the more po-faced efforts that those same critics rave about.
Sparkling here in hi-def, while the film may not be for everyone, there’s an undeniable charm and Britishness here that fully justifies its reassessment in 2009.
Roll on more trips to the Flipside.
Blu-ray Special Features
Highlights among the bevvy of extras on offer here are interviews with Spike Milligan and Peter Cook, two more eloquent men you’d be hard pressed to meet. With their views on politics, sex and the state of the world spliced together by an always out-of-sight Bernard Braden, the interviews are almost worth the price of the disc on their own.
- Archival interviews with Richard Lester (1967, 17 mins), Spike Milligan (1967, 40 mins) and Peter Cook (1967, 30 mins)
- Original trailer
- Illustrated booklet with essay by Michael Brooke (BFI Sight and Sound contributor) and original review and promotional material
- Run time: 91 mins + 90 mins extra material / ratio 1.85:1
- Subtitles: optional subtitles for hearing-impaired
- DVD cat no: BFIVD834 / BD cat no: BFIB1019