Georgy Girl (UK, 1966)

Does tradition triumph?

Does tradition triumph?

I’m planning to teach ‘sixties UK cinema this year so took the opportunity of watching Georgy Girl for ‘free’, via a PS3, as part of my Lovefilm subscription. I ended up shoving another 19 items onto my ‘watchlist’ including a number of tasty ‘world cinema’ offerings. As in music, we live in a time that offers a cornucopia of films and finding time to watch them all, and listen to the music, almost makes me yearn for the days of ‘drought’. In the 1970s there were three terrestrial television channels in the UK which meant there were three channels available. The system of ‘barring’ meant it was five years before films could be shown on television. There was a decent library of 16mm films for hire but that required specialist equipment.

So, no I’m not yearning for the ’70s. During that decade videocassette started the revolution in home entertainment that is now moving online; there’s little point in buying DVDs unless you’re going to study the film. This dip into the past was partly instigated by watching Georgy Girl as I remember The Seekers’ theme tune being a hit at the time (I was four!). According to Wikipedia, the film was too.

It was funded by Columbia Pictures who, along with other Hollywood studios, assumed that because London was ‘swinging’ it was also ‘where it’s at’ and money could be made appealing to young people. Robert Murphy (in Sixties British Cinema) names Georgy Girl as one of the few genuinely ‘swinging’ films, and the last in black and white, but it also starred James Mason which, presumably, appealed to an older audience who might have looked askance at the antics of the young people.

Lynn Redgrave plays the titular character, who’s supposedly over-weight and so not attractive, with great verve and she does embody a character who is capable of breaking stultifying tradition. She’s contrasted with her friend, the definitely good-time girl Meredith (Charlotte Rampling), who the film does, I think, condemn for her selfishness. But Murphy’s also correct when he states: ‘her defiance of conventions of marriage and motherhood gives the film a shocking frisson’ (p. 143).

The film remains engaging, 47 years later, though the (obligatory?) ‘swinging’ scene of a young person running through the streets shouting (and stripping in this film’s case) in defiance of convention does look dated. Alan Bates, looking startlingly like Mel Gibson in his prime, performs the role of Jos with great conviction even when he is stripping off when running through the underground walkways.

Today’s release of the annual Social Trends survey, in the UK, shows how much more tolerant we are, as a nation, of difference. That, I think, is certainly a positive legacy of the 1960s.

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One comment

  1. Roy Stafford

    BBC Radio 4 serialised this last week as part of its somewhat confusing tribute to the literature that inspired the films of the ‘British New Wave’. The radio serial is much closer to Margaret Forster’s book. I like the film very much but I think I disagree with Bob as the film has always seemed slightly ‘behind the times’ as a ‘Swingin’ Sixties’ entry. Although the novel appeared in 1965 I think its genesis was in the early 1960s when Forster was experiencing life as a young Northern teacher working in Islington. Her husband Hunter Davies also had a novel published in 1965 which became the film Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush in 1967 – and which seemed a much more contemporary story when it was released. I don’t mean by this that Georgy Girl wasn’t realist in its depiction of events. Most of London life in 1966 was certainly not ‘Swingin’ and in that sense Georgy’s experience was quite believable. More relevant perhaps is that it was a well-crafted story appreciated by the Americans (it was a big hit in North America) just like that other ‘out of time’ film that represented Swingin’ London for the Americans, Alfie (released in 1965 but based on a play with origins in Bill Naughton’s writing for radio in the late 1950s). I arrived in London in 1967 as another Northerner and I saw most of these films at the time of their release – I guess I felt the slight differences in approach very acutely then. Probably they look very similar to modern audiences.

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