Friday, August 10, 2007

The Leather Boys

This Summer of British Film is hard work, but I am keeping up so far.

I enjoyed The Leather Boys more than I expected. One of the reviews on the IMDB describes it as "an engaging hybrid of British 'kitchen sink' drama and American biker film," and that is about right.

It is the story of a couple (Rita Tushingham and Colin Campbell) who marry too young. They soon break up, and Campbell takes up with the engaging Dudley Sutton, who is more interested in motor bikes than girls. Sutton and Campbell lodge with the latter's grandmother, sharing a room and, indeed, a bed. Meanwhile Tushingham takes up with a young Johnny Briggs.

Tushingham and Campbell are reconciled in the course of an idyllic ride to Edinburgh and back, and Campbell parts painfully from Sutton. But when he arrives at Tushingham's house he finds Briggs has moved in with her.

He returns to Sutton and takes up his long-standing suggestion that they both sign on as ship's crew and go abroad. But in the pub at the docks he meets Sutton's friends and realises that he is a homosexual.

There is much to enjoy in The Leather Boys. Rita Tushingham gives a crackling performance - I believe that much of the dialogue between her and Campbell was improvised. He is hardly in her class as an actor, but you can argue that the callowness of his performance matches the character he is playing too.

Dudley Sutton is an interesting actor too. Of course, we know him best as Tinker from Lovejoy, just as we know Johnny Briggs as Mike Baldwin from Coronation Street. In smaller parts you will also see Betty Marsden from Round the Horne, Dandy Nicholls and Gladys Henson - a stalwart of the 1940s still going strong.

The most interesting thing about the homosexuality in the film is that Campbell's grandmother finds it quite unremarkable that two grown men should share a bed. Poverty must have forced this sort of intimacy upon many, which may explain why the working class was more prudish about nakedness as a defence against it. (Working-class boys who went to grammar schools often troubled that the changing rooms and showers required them to be "rude", as they saw it.)

Sutton is rather an appealing character - he does lots of funny voices and is nice to old ladies. Only in the final scene does stereotyping set in: one of Sutton's friends bears a worrying resemblance to Catherine Tate's character Derek Faye (although he , of course, is not gay).

There are some pleasing stills from The Leather Boys on the Reel Streets site.

2 comments:

Dan said...

Morrissey listed this film as one of his faves - footage of it can also be seen in the video of The Smith's "Girlfriend in a Coma".

Anonymous said...

I think that Reggie 'realised' Pete's homosexuality at least halfway through the film. Surely this was the reason for his reuniting with Dot on the motorcycle rally to Edinburgh? His motivation for wanting to take Dot back was his desire not to be branded as 'queer', rather than any genuine passion for her. As for the closing scene when Reggie and Pete part... Yes, I do think that the overt campness of Pete's acquaintances disturbed Reggie, but I think the real reason for his leaving Pete was Pete's lying about the ship's destination. He was betrayed by the adulterous Dot; he was betrayed by the manipulative Pete - but most of all Reggie betrayed his own feelings. As a meditation on closeted bisexuality (as Reggie undoubtedly had feelings for Pete), the film upset me quite a lot - moreso than the vastly overrated Brokeback Mountain.