Monday, September 22, 2008

TV Film of the Week: Guns at Batasi

An honourable mention to The Man in Grey, which is being shown on Channel 4 on Thursday (1.40p.m.). It is one of those wartime films concerned with Anglo-American relations and it stars Margaret Lockwood, Stewart Granger and James Mason. As you would expect there is plenty of bodice ripping and swashbuckling.

But Guns at Batasi is more surprising. Made in 1964, it deals with an unfashionable subject for British films - the retreat from Empire - and stars Richard Attenborough as a wholly convincing Regimental Sergeant Major. With his honourable but ultimately outmoded values, he is a Blimp of the other ranks.

As in every post-war British film, David Lodge plays a sergeant. The appearance of Mia Farrow is less expected.

But is is Attenborough's film. As the New York Times review says:

As the sergeant major, who is as stiff as a ramrod and an unblinking slave to the letter of military law, Richard Attenborough makes a proper hero to his tough mates, who are not averse to mimicking him.

In the face of attack by African troops and a Bofors gun or a showdown with the African leader of the revolt, he proves his mettle in unflinching, steely style. Mr. Attenborough's opportunities to ham it up are many, but even in the face to climactic orders to return to England he delivers a shaded performance that gives stature and meaning to what could have been a stereotyped role.

Guns at Batasi is being shown on Friday 26 September at 1.25 p.m. (Channel 4).

1 comment:

Frank Little said...

The film was fairly even-handed in its treatment of Africans and Brits, I seem to recall, at a time when British movies were still patronising our colonial subjects. It also had a go at a certain kind of politician who exploited the colonial situation.

What a pity the film-makers did not keep the title of Robert Holles's book: "Siege of Battersea". :-)

Two other things I remember about seeing the film for the first time: the appearance of John Leyton, who was then better-known as a pop star; and the accompanying short, a tender Russian study of a young boy in a one-parent family. I wish I could identify it on IMDb.