Jimmy Brewster (Alan Bates) observes it's a filthy, stinking world, but there are some smashing things in it, and those things are precisely what he has his heart set upon. He has a fairly low level position in a London property construction business but aspiration is always on his mind, trying to figure out how to make the best of what he has, and what others have too. Tonight he has recognised the switchboard operator Nadine (Lucinda Curtis) would be a handy person to get to know in light of the way she listens in on the conversations around the company, and has taken her out; if he manages to seduce her, so much the better. But he feels he still hasn't had his lucky break, and getting to the top can be hard work...
Nothing But the Best showed up around the time of the British satire boom, and it was no coincidence that one of the stars of That Was the Week That Was, the groundbreaking late night BBC programme hosted by David Frost and starring a wealth of new comedy talent, should have recruited one of their number in Millicent Martin, who was the resident singer, to play the boss's daughter Ann Horton in this film. Audiences of the day would have noted her presence and knew what they were getting as a result, but even so few would have expected the plot to take as dark a turn as it did. It starts off as a breezy black comedy with an edge, and ends up with us practically complicit in encouraging the hero in a heinous crime.
Or maybe antihero would be a better way to describe him, as Brewster swims his way through dimmer personalities than himself like a shark among the minnows. Initially we underestimate him, judging him to be some sixties wide boy with pretensions to the upper crust, and that sense of an upstart out of his depth is only underlined when he meets one Charlie Prince (Denholm Elliott) in a cafe. Prince lives how he wants as he has an allowance from his previous employers to cover up his double dealing and keep him quiet, so he spends his days betting on the horses and drinking, yet in him Brewster sees a mentor and a leg up into the rarefied air of how the other half get on, though he soon discovers there are drawbacks to putting all your eggs in one basket.
The British class system was a vital element of many a satirical take on society, but at the point where the establishment were no longer being deferred to as much as they would have previously enjoyed, along came works like this to expose the hypocrisy and complacency of the whole set up. Some have compared Nothing But the Best to Room at the Top, and the roots of its premise were definitely there, yet Brewster goes farther than Joe Lampton ever did; the previous film may have been cynical, but this one has a heart of purest ice, and that we're expected to laugh along with it renders it all the more scathing. Given the period this was created you expect Brewster to receive his comeuppance by the end, but as it goes along it grows clear there are no plans for that as the character has an answer for everything.
Needless to say Bates was excellent in a role tailor made for him; after his success in kitchen sink drama, a new force in British cinema, he was seeking something different and this proved an ideal match for his talents. He and Elliott make for an interesting double act, and there is some pleasure to be had from simply listening to them trading the lines from Frederic Raphael's screenplay whether they be hunting rabbits in the countryside or throwing themselves around the squash court, there's a sharp intelligence to the film's entirely unsentimental view on life at the cusp of a social revolution. The class Brewster aspires to is really no better or worse than he is, a subversive notion of the era, it's simply that he is able to negotiate its obstacles better than anyone else in the movie, and with a sly humour that regularly turns dramatic. His crime about an hour in is presented as a logical solution to a pressing problem, and we are on his side by this point which makes it all the more jarring. Knowing he is capable of anything, the lighthearted twist ending was anything but. Music by Ron Grainer.
[This is on DVD at last in very fine condition courtesy of Network, who include a trailer and gallery as extras.]