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Too Much Pressure: The Family Way on Blu-ray

  Films that raised a scandal in their day do not always last the test of time: who remembers No Orchids for Miss Blandish now, never mind would be outraged by it if they happened to watch it in the century following? Does anyone get their knickers in a twist about David Cronenberg's Crash this far into the twenty-first century, or is it a relic of the nineteen-nineties that hardly anyone has seen, never mind remembers, these days? But sometimes, those controversial films are worth going back to, and The Family Way is a strong candidate for that, an adaptation of Bill McNaughton's stage play All in Good Time.

Before that it was an hour-long instalment of the television series Armchair Theatre, nicknamed Armpit Theatre by the public for its love of bringing the gutter to the small screen with frank depictions (for the sixties) of social matters. The social matter in The Family Way was the lack of consummation of marriage, which sounded as if it could be somewhat dry as a topic, as after all technically you were in for a story about sex where nobody was getting any, yet there was so much more to it than that: there were no villains in this new marriage, it was simply an unfortunate set of circumstances to counter.

Not that there were no villains in the film, there was one in particular, and he was typical of the attitude to sex that has put the newlyweds off so badly. Hywel Bennett was the husband Arthur, a would-be intellectual of sorts - he reads at the dinner table, anyway - and thanks to their honeymoon being cancelled, he cannot "do the deed" with new wife Jenny in any kind of privacy, for they are stuck living with his parents. And those walls are thin. And everyone wants to know how they got on with their sex life now they are "allowed" thanks to being married; this was at an age when premarital sex was a no-no.

Not that people didn't do it, they just pretended they didn't and it was an affront to public morality if you were having it away without nuptials beforehand. Well, Arthur and Jenny have been wed, but when Arthur's workmate and boss at the local cinema, Joe (an odious Barry Foster) sabotages their bed, it puts him off going any further. Not to worry, thinks Jenny, there's always the honeymoon, but that is cancelled and as the weeks begin to crawl by she wonders if there is something wrong with her, and her brother-in-law (Murray Head) starts sniffing around her practically unintentionally, for one basic reason.

That was, in the context of the pop culture of the sixties, down to the fact she was Hayley Mills and the world was fascinated by her new, grown-up role, partly because she had a nude scene in it - from behind, but this was enough to make the film, yes, scandalous, to go along with the sexual angle of the plot. That world was identifying her with Disney movies like Pollyanna, never mind she had proven her range in more complex roles such as Whistle Down the Wind, and in that somewhat uneasy manner it was as if everyone was waiting for her to mature so they could desire her with some kind of legal allowance.

If that makes you uncomfortable, fair enough, because this prurience, that what should be nobody's business becomes everyone's business for no good reason other than fuelling the gossipmongers, is what is preying on poor Arthur's mind, and his self-consciousness is crippling his personality. There's no one he can turn to, even Jenny isn't completely empathetic in her response though again, Joe and his snide attitudes are the real villain, and the cleaning lady who eavesdrops when Arthur visits the Marriage Guidance Councillor is no help either for she spreads the story around for bragging rights on special knowledge. Directors The Boulting Brothers (one of whom married Hayley shortly after) were best known for satires, but here displayed unexpected tenderness.

With acres of sympathy, The Family Way contained massive reserves of charm, and was unexpectedly moving as well as hilariously funny in its observations of human foibles. The cast never put a foot wrong as they relished the Lancastrian plain-speaking dialogue, but extra praise had to go to John Mills (Hayley's dad, but playing Arthur's) and Marjorie Rhodes, who were simply wonderful as a couple who have lived with a lie only the wife knows about. Rhodes' lines about a family defending one of theirs when society can so easily gang up on them for being sensitive, or even gay, brought the themes into sharp relief: sometimes people need to be protected in order to blossom, for if they do not the chances are they will never survive. The Paul McCartney and George Martin score brings viewers to this film to this day, but it is that brilliant cast and dialogue that makes it stay in the memory as one of the sixties' real gems.

[Studio Canal release this excellent film on Blu-ray and DVD with the following extras:

NEW: The McCartney Way: Composing The Soundtrack - Interview with Chip Madinger
Armchair Theatre: Honeymoon Postponed (1961)
Original Trailer
Stills Gallery.]

Author: Graeme Clark.


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