Brighton Rock resurrects religious theme of Graham Greene’s source novel
2011 film adaptation also highlights grubby sexual and violent content
Remaking a seminal British crime film might seem like madness, but then writer-director Rowan Joffe has ignored the 1947 original and instead gone back to Graham Greene’s source novel. And having done that, he’s ditched its 1938 setting to update the seafront action to 1964. It’s a bold move, but one that’s paid off. On the one hand, the new film more explicitly engages with elements of the novel sidelined in the first film – the religious theme, its grubby sexual and violent content – and on the other, it finds a perfect context for the story of the rise and fall of a teenage gangster in the youth revolt of the early-60s embodied by the mods’n’rockers riots in Brighton.
At the heart of the story is the doomed, sadomasochistic romance between small-time hood Pinkie (Control’s Sam Riley) and waitress Rose (Andrea Riseborough). It’s a tricky relationship to make believable, but the combination of the debilitating Catholic guilt shared by the lovers and the youthful revolt that spurns them on keeps it convincing, and it’s neatly mirrored by the more straightforward relationship between old lags Helen Mirren and John Hurt, playing, respectively, prostitute and bookie.
Joffe, who established himself as a decent and versatile scriptwriter with 28 Weeks Later, The American and Glasgow-set thriller Gas Attack, contrasts the story’s grimy underworld setting with Brighton’s seaside glitz, and gives the whole thing a grand cinematic sweep with nods towards Get Carter, Quadrophenia and Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï.
General release from Fri 4 Feb.