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  I Start Counting The Tragic Cottage
Year: 1969
Director: David Greene
Stars: Jenny Agutter, Bryan Marshall, Clare Sutcliffe, Simon Ward, Gregory Phillips, Lana Morris, Billy Russell, Madge Ryan, Michael Feast, Fay Compton, Lally Bowers, Charles Lloyd Pack, Lewis Fiander, Gordon Richardson
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Wynne (Jenny Agutter) is a teenage schoolgirl who has found herself in something of a dilemma. She was adopted when she was younger into a family which was not Catholic as she is, and as the years have gone by she has felt a growing attraction to her stepbrother George (Bryan Marshall), but she does not know what to do about it. She is something of a snoop, and likes to spy on George, as she does this morning when she catches sight of him in the bathroom and notices that he has scratches on his back. Later, as he drops Wynne and her best friend Corinne (Clare Sutcliffe) off at school, she notes him surreptitiously dumping a package into a bin...

Everyone is suspicious in I Start Counting, a thriller that's actually a drama from that minor golden age of British horrors and suspense works in the late sixties to the mid-seventies, not that it may have felt like it at the time. But call it the new permissiveness, call it the hangover from the hippies, there was something about those efforts that doesn't seem to have been recaptured in the years since, and the director of this, David Greene, appeared for a while to be one of their most promising proponents, though he soon went back to television and the occasional, less inspiring movie project. But the film's biggest asset is its young star, who coped admirably with what could have been a difficult role.

Agutter is at the heart of this coming of age tale, which keeps you guessing about what is actually going on by mixing the local news stories of a murderer on the loose with the fantasies of the immature Wynne as she effectively grows up faster than maybe she intends. The chief suspect, both for us and for the girl, is George as he acts in a manner that suggests he has something to hide, which of course he does, but what we don't know is whether his big secret is that he is a killer. When Wynne returns to that dustbin to see what he was trying to get rid of, she discovers a package which she takes home, and once she is in her bedroom and the door is safely closed, she sees that it contains a bloody jumper.

Naturally, this seems like incriminating evidence but if you've seen enough of these things you will be aware that taking them on face value is not the way they usually play. In truth, the identity of the murderer is perhaps a bit too easy to guess, as he's a character who is revealed to be a bit dodgy a little too early on, but for stretches of the running time the film is more concerned with Wynne's awakening into the adult world. Although I Start Counting was largely dismissed at the time of release, most agreed that Agutter was the best thing in it, and she handles what could have been a clich├ęd Nancy Drew character by bringing a depth to her that fleshes out what might have been a by the numbers thriller.

This was based on a novel by Audrey Erskine-Lindop, and adapted for the screen by television writer Richard Harris (no, not the hellraising star of the day), which is fitting because you can envisage the plot making for one of those two part drama series that littered the schedules both then and now. What makes this more cinematic are the performances, with Sutcliffe adding sparks to her foolish but perky pal, and Gregory Phillips placing question marks in the audience's mind as the other stepbrother who is mysteriously cataloguing the news reports of the murders in a scrapbook. If there are flaws, aside from the obviousness of the killer, then they are mainly down to pacing, as for a film that sets out to set the pulse racing it takes its own time in doing so, but when the highlights arrive they make it all worth the wait. All in all, pleasingly paranoid, intriguingly guilt-ridden and subtly insightful. Basil Kirchin's classy music is also a bonus.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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