The League of Gentlemen

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Director: Basil Dearden
Producer: Michael Relph
Script:   Bryan Forbes
                                 From the novel by John Boland
Cinematography: Arthur Ibbetson
Original Music: Philip Green

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Basil Dearden's endearing and breezy crime caper is an entirely satisfying work that, in modern parlance, pushes all the right buttons. For those who think that British film history begins and ends with Danny Boyle and drawing room comedies, The League of Gentlemen (1959) is a timely reminder of the inventiveness and charm that typified British cinema culture in the early 1960s, providing a tutorial in clever plotting and sturdy acting along the way.

Jack Hawkins is a recently discharged army colonel who concocts a plan to rob a City bank. With the help of seven other ex-military miscreants (all 'with a guilty past and a hopeless future'), they spend the next hour and a half meticulously planning and plotting their scheme. Included in this ragbag include Richard Attenborough, Nigel Patrick and Roger Livesey - all famous faces who along with the other 'gentlemen' hope that their winnings will improve their love life, alleviate their boredom, and generally get one over on the army. The League of Gentlemen is also famous for its cameo appearance by Oliver Reed, whose film career was then just beginning. The League of Gentlemen received a British Academy Award nomination for Best British Screenplay (Forbes).

Shot in wonderfully defined monochrome, Dearden's sure-handed direction is ably reinforced by Bryan Forbes's screenplay. Adapted from John Boland's novel, Forbes cleverly captures the zeitgeist, alternating between military-speak and crime patois, while all the time giving different characters (including himself, as piano-playing toy-boy Porthill) a sense of breadth and depth. Throughout, Forbes and Dearden use the end of the war as metaphor for the kind of changes Britain is going through. In one scene, there might be a room full of chandeliers and roulette tables; in another Nanette Newman lying in a bath whispering sexual innuendo.

The film slowburns throughout, but really comes to life in the climactic bank heist, and before that, a daring rade on a Dorset military barracks. This latter scene in particular includes social comment, Carry On-esque high-jinks and a developing sense of tension. Philip Green's music is crucial throughout, combining a patriotic brass score with an insouciant up-tempo beat. The actors carry the film with charisma.







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The league of gentlemen