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  Sparrows Can't Sing A Cockney RejectedBuy this film here.
Year: 1963
Director: Joan Littlewood
Stars: James Booth, Barbara Windsor, Roy Kinnear, Avis Bunnage, Brian Murphy, George Sewell, Barbara Ferris, Griffith Davis, Murray Melvin, Arthur Mullard, Peggy Ann Clifford, Wally Patch, Bob Grant, Stephen Lewis, Victor Spinetti, Harry H. Corbett, Yootha Joyce
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Word is getting round the East End of London that Charlie Gooding (James Booth) is back from well over a year at sea, and he is looking forward to spending some time with his wife Maggie (Barbara Windsor) who he has been missing all these months. He takes a taxi with his friend and is dropped off near where his house is - or where it used to be because while he was away the terrace where his home was has been knocked down, and the new blocks of flats are where the former residents have been moved to. Now he has to track down Maggie, but what if she doesn't want to see him anymore? What if she's living with someone else?

Joan Littlewood was a legend in theatre circles for her innovative staging and direction, but when it came to films there were but two efforts to be connected with her. The second was Oh! What a Lovely War, though that was directed by Richard Attenborough and based on her original musical, but the first was Sparrows Can't Sing, drawn from a play she had directed that had not made the impact her other works had done, and indeed still has not as the film was not well received; not derided, but pretty much glossed over. A pity, perhaps, as it might have encouraged Littlewood onto further cinematic excursions.

As it is, we only have this to record her way with actors, but with the script based on the original by Stephen Lewis, who British audiences will know as Blakey from hit sitcom On The Buses, the Cockney quotient is amped right up to overbearing levels. Considering the plot is pretty much mapped out in the initial ten minutes, there's a disappointing lack of any kind of development here, and the film has the cheek to close not on the caption "The End", but with "And so on...", which suggests they had no way of knowing how to end it on a satisfying note. Before you reach that point, there's a lot of banter to sit through.

And I mean a lot, as every scene is filled with bickering and salt of the earth dialogue that may be redolent of a place and time, but grows monotonous after you get the idea. It doesn't help that Charlie has a reputation as a wifebeater, so we're not sure that we want to see him get back together with Maggie at all, and she's not too clear on that matter either. In fairness, every member of the cast does paint a vivid picture of their characters, with many recognisable faces in support and proving their worth as talent of the day, from Murray Melvin very different from his role in A Taste of Honey to Roy Kinnear as Charlie's window cleaner brother who frets about keeping Maggie away from him.

Also turning up is another future sitcom star, Brian Murphy who is accompanied by a budgie in practically ever shot he's in, and gets to speak the line "Sparrows Can't Sing" along with its explanation (something to do with painting them yellow to sell them as canaries, even though they cannot, well, sing), and George Sewell as Maggie's new boyfriend Bert: interestingly they're both married to other people but have come to an arrangement to "live in sin". As a comedy drama, it's too light to be dramatic and not funny enough to raise many laughs, but it does offer a glimpse of an area in transition, and if you lived through that era you may find something to recognise about the people depicted. For everyone else not taking a trip down memory lane, the cast make up for a somewhat unrelenting quality that may be as offputting to some as it is attractive to others. Music by James Stevens, and Lionel Bart wrote the theme that Windsor trills over the credits.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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