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.
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).
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.
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.