Friday 22 January 2016

Inadmissible Evidence [1968]

INADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE is a British drama that was directed by Anthony Page and originally released sometime in 1968.  It stars Nicol Williamson with support from Peter Sallis, Eleanor Fazan, Jill Bennett, Eileen Atkins, Ingrid Boulting and Gillian Hills.  Adapted by John Osborne from his own play it centres on Bill Maitland, a bitter and cynical lawyer experiencing what is half nervous breakdown and half mid-life crisis.

Osborne is a playwright I admire.  His 'Look Back in Anger' performed much the same function for British theatre as punk did for British music: it dragged plays out of the drawing room into the bedsit. Without Osborne there would be no kitchen sink drama, no Joe Orton, no David Mercer, no Edward Bond.  He brought disgust to the stage, disgust at what he saw as a feeble country flooded with mediocrity.  His characters saw this mediocrity too but were unable to transcend it either through lack of opportunity, energy or commitment.

The film begins with a dream sequence in which Bill Maitland has been arrested and taken for trial to court in a police van...
...which isn't much different to being on the train on his way to work.
Bill Maitland is a good example.  Whereas Jimmy Porter was the original angry young man, Maitland is an angry middle-aged man.  He is angry that his career has gone nowhere but knows that is due to his lack of effort; he is angry that his marriage is crumbling but knows that is due to his womanising; he is angry that his children have no respect for him but knows that is due to his failings as a parent.
Maitland's dream of being imprisoned
Maitland recognises this within himself and however much bile he directs at others, he directs more at himself, for he possesses lacerating self-honesty.  He despises no-one more than he despises himself.  Without wanting to turn this into a piece of literary criticism, the character of Bill Maitland reminded me very much of Harry Haller, the eponymous central figure in Herman Hesse's novel Steppenwolf.  The narrator described Haller thus:

I saw that Haller was a genius of suffering and that in the meaning of many sayings of Neitzsche, he had created within himself an ingenious, a boundless and frightful capacity for pain.  I saw at the same time that the root of his pessimism was not world-contempt but self-contempt; for however mercilessly annihilates persons and institutions in his talk he never spared himself.  It was always at himself first and foremost that he aimed the shaft, it was always he himself whom he hated and negated.

See here in a scornful, sarcastic rant.
Maitland differs from Porter in this respect: Porter is frustrated because he knows he is capable of and deserves better but Maitland knows the wretchedness of his life is entirely his own doing. This realisation causes him to lash out at those who do, or did, love him: his wife (Eleanor Fazan); his mistress (Jill Bennett); his ex-mistress (Eileen Atkins); his daughter (Ingrid Brett). But even the act of doing so causes him internal pain: at one point he says:

"I never hoped or wished for anything more than to have the good fortune of friendship and the excitement and comfort of love and the love of women in particular.  With the first, with friendship, I hardly succeeded at all.  Not really.  No.  Not at all.  With the second, with love, I succeeded,  I succeeded in inflicting, quite certainly inflicting, more pain than pleasure."

Maitland's promiscuity catches him out.
Maitland loathes himself to the extent that he dreads being alone but, in furtherance of this objective, has complicated his personal life to the extent that he is unable to keep any of his relationships alive.  He is aware this is happening but is unable to prevent everyone in his life leaving him, even his male colleagues.  He offers to make his trusted senior clerk Hudson (Peter Sallis) a partner but learns Hudson has already received an offer from rival firm Piffards.

Making a move on Joy (Gillian Hills).
Osborne's plays can be a draining experience because there is nothing cosy about them; they make no concession to being comfortable.  'Comfort' is something that Osborne despised and, seeing his beloved England infected with it, he howled with rage.  Having said that, his plays are very very funny.  Some of Maitland's rants are right on the money and the elegant barbs and put downs are terrific, e.g. "He's a tent peg.  Made in England.  To be knocked into the ground."

Nicol Williamson as Bill Maitland
INADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE was first performed in 1964 and it really put Nicol Williamson on the map.  He is one of my favourite actors about whom I have written before (in my review of THE BOFORS GUN which you can read here).  Apparently he was electrifying on the stage as Maitland; inevitably film diminishes that; apart from anything else the immediacy and physical connection are lost.  Nevertheless, it's still a wonderful performance from which it is still possible to feel a tremendous bolt of energy.  Williamson, who died in relative obscurity in 2011, was by most accounts a mercurial and intimidating personality.  One can imagine he is the kind of person who did not suffer fools and perhaps because of this was not best-suited for a long career in the film business.

Jill Bennett as Liz
Jill Bennett was an English actress to whom John Osborne was married from 1968 to 1977.  An unusual-looking woman, she worked mainly on stage and television but had two or three memorable film roles, notably in the Bond movie FOR YOUR EYES ONLY [1981] and as Timothy Spall's mother in Bernardo Bertolucci's adaptation of THE SHELTERING SKY [1990], her final screen appearance.  She and Osborne had what can politely be described as a toxic relationship; gallantry prevents me from repeating here what he said of her following her suicide at the age of 58.

Peter Sallis as Hudson
Peter Sallis is of course best known as the voice of Wallace in Nick Park's Wallace & Gromit animated stories and for the gentlest of gentle Sunday night TV comedies LAST OF THE SUMMER WINE.  Over the course of an immense career he appeared in hundreds of stage productions, TV episodes and films.  Of particular interest to fans of delirious cinema are THE NIGHT DIGGER [1971] and TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA [1970] and SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN [1970], a trio of British horrors.  It's always nice to see him in films like these, given how avuncular his image became in the latter part of his career.
Dame Eileen Atkins as Shirley
 Eileen Atkins, or Dame Eileen Atkins to give her her full title, is along with Judi Dench and Maggie Smith one of the grand old ladies of British acting.  She only has a small role here.  By contrast, Ingrid Brett and Gillian Hills were two modish young actresses who for a while were in fashion but who later left showbusiness altogether.  Brett, also known as Ingrid Boulting, was basically a model who tried her hand at acting, found she wasn't much good at it and packed it in.  She did though appear in an interesting Hammer horror feature with Joan Fontaine called THE WITCHES [1966].

Ingrid Brett / Boulting as Jane
Hills is a similar case; she's probably best remembered for getting nekkid with David Hemmings in Antonioni's peerless BLOW UP [1966].  As a young girl she came under the wing of / into the dirty hands of Roger Vadim who gave her the big build up as the next Brigitte Bardot.  A faint hope, really, as Bardot was unique - it's like trying to be the next Picasso.  Or the next Ian Botham.  In a short career she did however contribute to several interesting projects such as Kubrick's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE [1971], a TV adaptation of Alan Garner's novel 'The Owl Service', the Hammer horror DEMONS OF THE MIND [1972], and a Spanish giallo THE KILLER WORE GLOVES [1974].

John Savident as Mr Watson
In very small roles, at a horrific middle-class dinner party (a scene not in the original play), are John Savident, erstwhile butcher Fred Elliott in the great British soap Coronation Street, and June Brown, batty old lady Dot Cotton in the other great British soap Eastenders.

June Brown as a dinner party guest
Finally there's British director Lindsay Anderson as the barrister who has the misfortune of being instructed by Bill Maitland.

Lindsay Anderson as the barrister
Dudley Moore wrote the music and indeed sings a rather ropey song heard over footage of a stripper doing her turn at a club Maitland visits during his lunch hour.

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