Fed up with a life with no apparent prospects Up North, Brenda (Rita Tushingham) and best friend Yvonne (Lynn Redgrave) head south to London and what they hope will be fame and fortune. Yvonne is keener on those than Brenda, and there are times when she feels as if she is being taken along for the ride to do her bidding rather than as an equal, but as they get off the train they do share an optimism. Pausing briefly to accidentally knock over a passenger, they ask a drunk the way to Carnaby Street, but he thought they said Camden Street, so they're out of luck there for a start...
If you're not sure the sixties were all they were cracked up to be by the Baby Boomers, then here was a film that agreed with you - and it was straight out of the Summer of Love to boot. Written by George Melly, perhaps better known for his musical exploits, this was a musical of sorts (Melly wrote the lyrics, John Addison took care of the tunes), although the songs tended to be sung by Yvonne and Brenda on the soundtrack rather than lipsynced in dance numbers. But more than the music, it was that tone of sarcasm, that feeling that the whole Swinging Sixties notion being the coolest thing ever was a fraud, that gave Smashing Time its lasting appeal.
And yet, the film wants to have its cake and eat it too, because if the culture it portrays were not so dazzling and fun, then there would not be much of a reason to watch it. We don't see the girls being degraded so badly that the story becomes depressing, but we do see them humiliated among a bunch of hip young things who wouldn't deserve to be impressed by them in the first place, as to the glitterati Brenda and Yvonne turn into a fad, something to be entertained by today and dismissed tomorrow. It's not a new concept, the whole rags to riches and back again showbiz tale, but the manner in which it's shown here was what made it stand out from the crowd.
You could see Smashing Time as an anti-fashion film, and we do have that feeling of looking down on the two lead characters, Yvonne especially as we perceive how hopelessly vain and self-serving she is from practically the moment she opens her mouth. Redgrave and Tushingham make for that rare thing, a great female comedy double act, and it's a pity we never saw them follow this up in something similar as they are perfect together, wringing laughs from dialogue more Alan Bennett than Simon Dee. The whole pop scene of the day is sent up mercilessly, and Melly had even more targets in his sights as asides take on such then sacred cows as religion and the police.
The inference being that pop culture was the ultimate sacred cow, so was in good company among whatever else was being skewered here. The plot itself is episodic, and you're never a minute away from a recognisable face, so stuffed with talent was this. Starting with nothing - the duo have their money stolen early on - they work their way through menial jobs such as waitressing compared to Yvonne's grand dreams, but always manage to cause havoc wherever they go, mainly through their own ill-feelings towards either those they meet or even each other. Pausing briefly for a champion pie fight and a withering parody of Candid Camera and other "Great British Public" TV shows, the unlikely happens and Yvonne does indeed hit the heights of success - but so does Brenda, and this state of affairs drives them apart. Along the way, the plus side is that Yvonne becomes a pop star with the great song "I'm So Young", an insanely catchy spoof. With just the right acidic touch, it's no wonder this turned into the cult favourite it did.