Michael Winner (director)
93 min (length)
05 July 2021 (released)
04 July 2021
In this 1963 crime drama set in a Notting Hill filled with jazz and coffee bars, countless bedsits, bohemians and increasing racial tensions, an unemployed misfit and lapsed Catholic runs into big trouble as he hopes to free himself from the shackles of society and what society (including his well-meaning Mum) expects of him.
The opening shot pans across a Notting Hill skyline and Acker Bilk's immediately identifiable low register clarinet sets the scene all too well. The actual plot begins with misfit Joe Beckett (Alfred Lynch) - who has 'loser' written all over him - leaving his grimy bedsit after spending the night with his rather posh and somewhat gauche girlfriend Ilsa Barnes (little known actress Kathleen Breck) – always on the lookout to ensure that his landlady Mrs. Hartley (Freda Jackson) doesn't catch them in the act as she doesn’t allow this sort of thing in her respectable boarding house. Joe then sets off to work – meaning a dreary day job in a stuffy gentlemen’s outfitters in the Strand. Quite what a bloke like jazz loving Joe is doing in a dead end job like this, well, who knows! Joe is promptly sacked on the spot by the officious little martinet/ shop manager for not pushing a sale and displaying the wrong attitude (Joe is always late for a start). This woeful incident is witnessed by a would-be customer: a man named Richard Dyce (a nicely cast raspy-voiced Eric Portman)… a bogus ex-army Major if ever there was one. The shady Dyce sees a certain potential in Joe and immediately concocts a plan. Within no time it becomes obvious that Dyce is a con merchant, emphasized by his question to the stuffy shop manager. Dyce: “Which regimental ties do you have?” Shop Manager: “Which regiment?” Dyce: “What have you got?”
Afterward he follows Joe into a nearby Wimpy bar where he attempts avoiding paying for his coffee, shortly after the pair enter a pub where Dyce lets Joe know he's taken a liking to him. Joe soon realises that Dyce has put a tail on him - a scruffy individual called Jacko (Peter Reynolds) who follows him everywhere. It was providential - but not in a nice way that Dyce first encountered Joe.
Joe invites the 'Major' to a bottle party later that night and his spoilt brat of a posh girlfriend (who never seems to have any money mind you) is also there. However, he finds himself smooching with voluptuous ‘earth mother’ Georgia (the always reliable Diana Dors) on the sofa. Much to the chagrin of the Major who offers to fight him for her, Joe can't be bothered and leaves. Quite what Georgia sees in this rather odious old con man (who later becomes her ponce) is also just a little unfathomable. Things soon get from bad to worse for our Joe when his landlady finally kicks him out (eventually having caught him with Ilsa) and he leaves his meagre belongings with old eccentric hoarder Mr. Gash (Finlay Currie), a neighbour who has hundreds of books in his basement flat in his search for the ‘truth’. In a later scene, Joe’s old Mum (Kathleen Harrison) has a proper conversation with him in a park, hoping her son would return to Catholicism and get married one day before she snuffs it… Of all people, Mr. Gash comes to the jazz club to break the news to Joe. Indeed, his only confederates are Georgia and the eccentric old hoarder though neither are the solution to his problems and soon Joe finds himself in a position where he feels he cannot turn down the proposition that the loathsome Dyce offers him… involving the murder of his wealthy aunt though it's hardly a case of the best laid plans....
A number of things don't really tie up but in the overall scale it doesn't distract from the film's poignancy. Alfred Lynch – looking decidedly weather beaten - is well cast and is featured in practically every scene. You can have a field day spotting the uncredited bit part players, one is a very young David Hemmings in the role of a hoodlum (a 3-minute appearance if that).
The film benefits from a script from the winning team of Willis Hall and Keith Waterhouse. Ah, whatever happened to the director Michael Winner? He had the right name did he not? Sadly the films people associate Winner with these days are little better than utterly undemanding commercial fare (Death Wish, anyone?) but Winner would probably have been the first to tell you that's where the money is. The fact remains that his early career showed considerable promise and this film stands as a testimony to that statement. WEST 11 is debatably among his finest films and has a great deal going for it (based on a novel by then Notting Hill resident Laura Del Rivo, who deserves to be better known).
Newly restored, WEST 11 is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital platforms with (an admittedly disappointing) Bonus Material that only includes the original Theatrical Trailer and an interview with film historian Matthew Sweet. A portrait of author Laura Del Rivo and/or archive footage of Notting Hill in the 1960’s would have been nice!