Saturday, April 21, 2007

TV film of the week: The League of Gentlemen

Forget Tubbs, Papa Lazarou and Royston Vasey. The League of Gentlemen is a British heist picture from 1960, directed by Basil Dearden.

Jack Hawkins is Colonel Hyde, cashiered from the Army after 25 years of service and bearing a grudge because of it. He revenges himself by planning the perfect bank robbery.

He recruits former Army colleagues to help him, each of whom is struggling to survive in the civilian world and needs the money.

Hyde appears to have planned the perfect crime. But no plan is ever quite as perfect as it seems, and when one former comrade too many turns up...

We are supposed to think of the 1950s as an irredeemably dull decade. People sat around waiting for the 1960s, the Beatles, and the invention of sexual intercourse. This film suggests that it was a lot more interesting than that. Yes, there is dissatisfaction with the contemporary scene, but it springs from a sense that the spivs have supplanted the men who won the war.

Hyde is lost in the post-war world; the military virtues he exemplifies are no longer wanted. His recruits are doing worse, trapped in awful marriages, tied to failing businesses or disgraced. One is obviously gay, and that in a film released a year before another Basil Dearden film, Victim, which is supposed to be the first time the subject was broached in a British film.

The League of Gentlemen works as a thriller - you become engrossed in the details of the bank job and hope the gang will get away with it but it is also very funny.

The cast is terrific. Hawkins himself gives the finest performance I have seen from him and he is supported by Roger Livesey, Richard Attenborough, Brian Forbes (and thus, by contractual obligation, Nannette Newman).

Look out too for a comic turn from Robert Coote as Bunny Warren and for a brief appearance by a young Oliver Reed - a very camp dancer who has double-booked the room Hyde needs to plan his robbery.

The League of Gentlemen is on Channel 4 at 12:30 p.m. on Monday 23 April.

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