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  Georgy Girl There Once Was An Ugly Duckling
Year: 1966
Director: Silvio Narizzano
Stars: James Mason, Alan Bates, Lynn Redgrave, Charlotte Rampling, Bill Owen, Clare Kelly, Rachel Kempson, Denise Coffey, Peggy Thorpe-Bates, Dandy Nichols, Dorothy Alison, Terence Soal, Jolyan Booth
Genre: Comedy, Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Georgy Parkin (Lynn Redgrave) walks the streets of Swinging London, not feeling as if she truly fits in with the exciting and hedonist spirit of the times, so she goes to get her hair done at a posh salon. On emerging, she thinks she looks ridiculous and rushes to the nearest public lavatory to wash her hair in the sink, ending up looking as she did before, then returns to her parents' home where she works as a dance teacher for little children in one of the large upstairs rooms. Her parents (Bill Owen and Clare Kelly) work as housekeepers for rich businessman James Leamington (James Mason) who lusts after the plain Georgy...

And he's the only man who does, at the beginning of the tale anyway, in a film which many saw as the epitome of the devil may care British sixties scene, even in how daring it was for its day, but actually was in possession of more depth than it was given credit for, and a lot more complex than the similar sort of comedy made from this material would have been in the twenty-first century. Although third-billed, Redgrave was the real star in her breakout role which she eagerly stepped into once her sister Vanessa Redgrave pulled out, and although she ended up feeling self-conscious about the way she appeared in it, the part did wonders for her career.

You can easily understand why, as she was terrific in a pitch-perfect reading of the character's quietly desperate situation, with director Silvio Narizzano allowing his camera to linger on her features as her expression will settle from humorous to reveal the loneliness she's trying to cover up. It was a tour de force - she lost to Elizabeth Taylor at the Academy Awards, though Redgrave offered a more accomplished performance, good as Taylor was - at times lighter than air in its humour, at others grindingly downbeat when she has to deal with her biggest problem: other people. Georgy lives with flatmate Meredith (Charlotte Rampling, also making waves), but where she is kindly and unattractive, her friend is beautiful, selfish and bitchy.

Meredith has a boyfriend, Jos (Alan Bates), but he seems unaware or unwilling to admit she has affairs with other men while stringing him along. Jos is a happy-go-lucky sort, and it's he who Georgy loves except she doesn't believe she has any chance with him, and besides to "steal" him away from Meredith is outwith her limits of acceptability, except that Jos realises Georgy isn't such a bad sort after all, and begins to fall for her. As if that wasn't complicated enough, Meredith then falls pregnant (we're not sure if it's her partner's baby or one of her other flings', and he doesn't think to ask her, even if she knew), and the night she gives birth is the night Jos and Georgy finally consummate their newfound love.

If this is sounding like a soap opera, what lifted it above the norm were a selection of superb performances, not only Redgrave as she was bolstered by excellent playing from the support. From the opening song, a just try and get it out of your head hit ditty performed by The Seekers (and co-written by Carry On star Jim Dale), you may think it's going to be fun and games, but the heartache Georgy endures brings about some genuine dliemmas. She doesn't want Meredith's lifestyle at all, what she wants is to settle down and be a mother, as we see not only in her choice of occupation but in the way she takes over as parent to Meredith's baby so she won't give it up for adoption. Yet every choice she makes, or is thrown in her path, is more complex than she would like it to be, with Jos not really husband material and any relationship with James surely to be some kind of compromise. That the drama was finally unsatisfying was written into it, leaving you to ponder about what could possibly happen next. Music by Alexander Faris.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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