Films

All posts tagged Films

Barbara Windsor Header
The young blonde actress looked about her bemusedly. The cold damp field didn’t look very Hollywood to her – even the mud had been painted green to look like grass and she was starting to sink slowly into it.

Although it was a bitterly cold February morning, all her co-actors were wearing nothing but bikinis and swimsuits and were being addressed by the director, Gerald Thomas, on the set of ‘Carry on Camping’.

Barbara Windsor in Carry on Camping

Barbara Windsor in Carry on Camping

‘Right love, we’ll attach some fishing line and a hook to your bra, and Bert, the props man will pull it off’

So with only Kenneth Williams and Hattie Jacques (and essential film crew) in front of her, a 32 year old Barbara Windsor created one of the most memorable comedy vignettes to have appeared in British film history.

Born Barbara Ann Deeks in August 1937 – in the London Hospital, in Whitechapel Road to parents John and Rose Deeks, Barbara’s family had both East End and Irish connections. Barbara’s paternal great-grandmother had fled from the terrible Irish potato famine and had settled in the East End, eventually finding employment as one of the infamous match girls.

Barbara Windsor was an only child, and her mother made no bones of the fact that she had been hoping for a boy. When John Deeks left to fight in the war, Barbara was evacuated to Blackpool.

Barbara was taken in by Florence and Ernest North, and Florence soon spotted some potential in young Barbara, writing a letter to Rose Deeks asking to be allowed to send her to Norbreck Dancing School with her own daughter Mary.

Once there, Barbara took to singing and dancing like a duck to water, and upon returning to London, her mother paid for elocution lessons and enrolled her in the Aida Foster Acting School in Golders Green. She made her stage debut at 13 and aged just 15 made her West End debut in the chorus of the musical ‘Love from Judy’, a role she continued for two years.

In 1954, aged 17, Barbara Windsor made her film debut in ‘The Belles of St Trinians’, before continuing her stage career with Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop in Stratford East, performing in ‘Fings Ain’t Wot They Use To Be’ and Littlewood’s film, ‘Sparrers Can’t Sing’.

It is probably for her career in the immensely successful ‘Carry On’ series of films that Barbara Windsor became a star. She recalls in her autobiography ‘All of Me – My Extraordinary Life‘ that she had an argument with co-star Kenneth Williams in her first film, where he accused her of fluffing her lines. In a scene which required him to wear a beard, she drew herself to her full four feet ten and a half inches and shouted out “Don’t you yell at me with Fenella Fielding’s minge hair stuck round your chops, I won’t stand for it”.

Kenneth Williams was said to have clapped his hands together and grinned, saying ‘Haaaah – isn’t she wonderful?’ They became lifelong friends.

Barbara Windsor went on to make nine Carry On films, although she is so memorable many people think she actually appeared in a lot more.

Barbara Windsor with Ronnie Knight and Reggie Kray

Barbara Windsor with Ronnie Knight and Reggie Kray

Barbara’s off stage life was complicated as that on screen, with a string of affairs, a total of five abortions (three before she was 21) and three marriages. She lost her virginity at 18 to a ‘flash Arab’. Her affair with her Carry On co-star Sid James has been well documented and she was also romantically linked to Bee Gee Maurice Gibb.

Her first marriage was to small time crook Ronnie Knight, and through him, she became associated with the Krays, initially going out with the twins older brother Charlie (who she described as looking ‘a bit like Steve McQueen’), before sleeping with Reggie Kray. She later married Stephen Hollings, an actor, in 1986 before their divorce in 1995, and is now married to former actor Scott Mitchell.

Barbara Windsor cemented her East End credentials when in 1994, she appeared as Peggy Mitchell in the long running BBC soap opera ‘Eastenders’, admitting when she joined the soap that she had been a ‘scared little lady’.

Barbara Windsor as Peggy Mitchell

Barbara Windsor as Peggy Mitchell

She continued to play a major part in the show, winning the British Soap Award for Best Actress honour in 1999 until a tearful farewell on the 10th September 2010 (although she did make a small comeback for one episode in 2013).

Her awards didn’t finish there however, as she was made an MBE in the 2000 New Years Honours List.

In 2012, Barbara Windsor became patron of the Amy Winehouse Foundation.

Jack-the-Ripper-Mini-Series-1988-Header
One of the problems facing anyone wishing to make a film about the infamous serial killer, Jack the Ripper, is that we already know history has yet to deliver up a perpetrator. Many suspects have been put forward over the years, but none have proved conclusive. So when filmmakers set about documenting the life of the East End’s most notorious son, they often let their imagination get the better of them, and we invariably end up with a fantasy film with little grasp or adherence to the known facts.

Jack The Ripper Mini-Series

Michael Caine and Jane Seymour in ‘Jack the Ripper’ Mini-series

Happily, this was not the case in the Jack the Ripper mini-series produced in 1988 by director and producer David Wickes. Although the series itself still had a number of historical flaws (just see the busy London street scene complete with horse drawn omnibus which gives an extremely sanitised view of a street of the time – they were normally ankle deep in horse droppings!) Wickes tried to stick to the case facts and reproduce the murder scenes as accurately as possible.

The film stars Michael Caine in the role of Inspector Frederick Abberline (a cockney in the starring role – albeit from the wrong side of the river!) who is assigned the unfolding series of Whitechapel Murders in 1888. His co-worker and co-star in the film is Sergeant George Godley played by the late Lewis Collins, and the cast are ably assisted by Susan George and Lysette Anthony who play the doomed prostitutes Katherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly. Jane Seymour plays a talented artist, Emma Prentiss and the actor Armand Assante plays the famous American actor Richard Mansfield (and who excels himself in his nightly portrayal of the eponymous Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde on stage, transforming himself in front of a terrified audience).

Before the film was broadcast, David Wickes claimed that he had been given exclusive access to the files and documentation of the Jack the Ripper case from Scotland Yard, and that his film would reveal the true identity of Jack the Ripper for the first time. Wickes was challenged over the claim and had to withdraw his statement, but has gone a long way to present a convincing case. A number of red herrings are thrown into the plot with suspects ranging from Richard Mansfield himself to Prince Albert Victor, the Grandson of Queen Victoria.

jack-the-ripper-1988--Michael-Caine-and-Lewis-Collins

Michael Caine and Lewis Collins in ‘Jack the Ripper’ mini-series

Unlike many films today, the Jack the Ripper mini-series does not descend into a gory bloodbath and uses more subtle ways of conveying the terrifying attacks on the prostitutes. Despite this, the viewer is still treated to some fairly harrowing verbal descriptions of the injuries.

So – is it a good film? That will depend on the viewer’s own tastes and preconceptions. Michael Caine does a fine job and the subject matter, although well-known is delivered in a fairly intelligent and non-sensationalistic way.

The film ends with the disclaimer that –

‘In the strange case of Jack the Ripper; there was no trial and no signed confession. In 1888, neither fingerprinting nor blood typing was in use and no conclusive forensic, documentary or eye-witness testimony was available. Thus, positive proof of The Ripper’s identity is not available.

We have come to our conclusions after careful study and painstaking deduction. Other researchers, criminologists and writers may take a different view. We believe our conclusions to be true.’

Krays-Film-Header
“The Krays”, was a 1990 film based around the lives of two of the East End’s most infamous sons, Ronnie and Reggie Kray. Written by Philip Ridley and produced by Hungarian born filmmaker Peter Medak, the film starred real life brothers Gary and Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet fame, together with the actress Billie Whitelaw who played their doting mother Violet. Whitelaw’s performance is central to the whole film as, in real life, Violet was the centre of the Kray Twins world. Indeed, throughout her life, Violet Kray could see no evil in her two sons, referring to them as ‘her beautiful boys’. The twins returned that adoration.

The cast is ably supported by such fine actors as Tom Bell who played their ill-fated accomplice Jack “The Hat” McVitie, and Jimmy Jewel who gives an excellent performance as the twins boxing fixated grandfather, “Cannonball” Lee.
Kray-Film-Group

The early part of the film concentrates on the twins’ upbringing, and upon the influences various members of their family had upon their development. At all times throughout the film, the importance of the women who helped to shape their young lives is evident, whether though the performance of Billie Whitelaw, or Susan Fleetwood who plays their formidable Aunt Rose.

As a result, the Kemp Brothers enter the film fairly late on. Whilst they make a fairly good job of acting in general, what is often missing is a sense of real menace. In case you should forget, both Kray Twins were imprisoned in 1969 after being found guilty of committing a murder each. They were just 34 years old, and it is this that is so difficult to convey in any biopic – the fact that these two relatively young men had much of East London crime in their control and ran a criminal empire by the simple means of using violence and terror against their enemies and victims.
Krays-Film-Kemp-Brothers

The film attempts to remain true to events as they happened, so scenes such as Ronnie using a cutlass to slice a rival’s mouth open from ear to ear, and Reggie attacking two lads and beating them senseless for the ‘crime’ of talking to his wife are retained. The film is also reasonably well researched so that when we are watching the scene where Reggie has to stab Jack “The Hat” McVitie to death, it is because his gun jammed – which is exactly what happened in ‘real life’.

At the time of writing, a new film based on the life of the Kray Twins is under production and is set to star actor Tom Hardy who has confirmed he has the challenging task of playing both brothers…

From Hell
From Hell

There have been numerous films based, albeit loosely, on the ‘career’ of the East End’s most infamous son, Jack the Ripper.  Given the scope for speculation, it is perhaps surprising that there have not been more – but, for dramatic effect, most are inaccurate in their historical portrayal of facts. There is of course nothing wrong with this, as long as the viewer remembers that they are merely dramatic pieces – it’s the difference between reading a novel or an encyclopaedia.

The 2002 film ‘From Hell’ is one such story. Starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham, this film has a graphic novel feels to it – unsurprising as that is how the story started out. So firstly, why ‘From Hell’? In one of the letters written by the ‘real’ Jack the Ripper, this was the return address he used on the correspondence.

Set in 1888 in the East End of London, the film starts by highlighting the plight of the unfortunate poor who spend their appalling lives in the city’s deadliest slum, Whitechapel.

Street Gangs force prostitutes to walk the streets for a living, and Mary Kelly (Heather Graham) and her small clutch of companions lives their miserable existence, consoling themselves with the fact that things can’t get any worse. However, when their friend Annie is kidnapped the women are drawn into a conspiracy with connections far higher up the social ladder than any of them could possibly imagine.

Annie’s kidnapping is rapidly followed by the gruesome murder of another of their group, Polly, and it becomes apparent that the women are being hunted down, one at a time. Even by the standards in Whitechapel at the time, this murder attracts the attention of Inspector Fred Abberline (played by Johnny Depp with a half decent cockney accent), a talented yet troubled man whose police work is often aided by his ‘psychic’ abilities, an ability he attempts to enhance by frequent visit to the numerous Opium Dens prevalent in the area at the time. Abberline is portrayed as an opium addict and when “chasing the dragon” he is able to have visions of the future, a certain psychic ability that allows him to solve cases.
From-Hell-Cover

Being Hollywood, Abberline becomes deeply involved with the case, which becomes personal when he and the attractive Mary begin to fall in love. However, as Abberline gets closer to the truth, the Whitechapel area is becoming more and more dangerous for his love interest, Mary, and the other girls. Whichever individual is responsible for the gruesome acts of murder and evisceration is not going to give up his secret without a fight….

The film is entertaining enough, but sharped eyed members of the audience will spot a number of errors that seem to have been overlooked for ‘poetic license’ purposes.

We are shown a shot of the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. However, it only gained its “Royal” status in 1990 – for the rest of its previous 250 years history, from when it was constructed on its present site in 1757, it was simply called ‘The London Hospital’.

A short while after the second murder, Inspector Abberline refers to “Jack the Ripper”. However, the murderer was not to become known by that name until the double event murder and receipt of the “Dear Boss” letter, which took place 4 weeks later.

Like most film and Television versions of the Ripper murders, From Hell shows the Ripper’s victims as being considerably younger and more attractive than in real life. Sadly, the vast majority of the prostitutes in the East End were gin soaked and riddled with disease, which quickly robbed them of their looks. Hollywood lets us down again….