It's early in the London morning and a body of a young woman has been spotted floating in the Thames, near the docks, so the police fish it out of the water and set about attending to it, checking for any identification though there is none they can see, no jewelry or other personal effects. Meanwhile, dawn having recently broken the nightclub this girl (Ann Lynn) works in is closing for the evening and she is about to set off for home when she receives a phone call from a boy (Brian Phelan) who wants to get to know her better, though she is reluctant. And then there's the young mother (Judi Dench) who cannot get her baby to sleep...
The era of the British kitchen sink drama was moving to television rather than cinema by the point Four in the Morning was made, not that there were no other examples after it, but the period most identified with the style, late fifties to early sixties, was passing to make way for the Swinging movies of the latter part of its decade. The effects were still felt for a long time afterwards, but times were changing, though in the case of this there was only one of the stories depicted which really slotted into that category, and that was the one where the future Dame Judi wrestled with domestic issues when her husband (Norman Rodway) has been at a party all night.
If it were not for her presence and latter day national treasure status it's likely this effort would have passed into obscurity, and it's not a famous work by any means, but for those curious to see Dench in her younger days and proving she had the acting chops that would see her do so well in the theatre, Four in the Morning was ideal. We see her sharing scenes with her baby who will not stop crying and it's clear the woman is heading for a breakdown, whether it's post-natal depression or merely the fact that she is stuck in a life which is seeming more like a prison the longer it goes on. It was the stuff of contemporary television plays, but director Anthony Simmons attempted to make cinema out of it.
That was most evident in the plotline featuring an unsung heroine of British sixties cinema, Ann Lynn, who finally found fame not from ploughing away in neglected movies like this, but twenty years later when she played Paul Nicholas' mother in classic eighties sitcom Just Good Friends. Here she was the most glamorous of the performers, though only by dint of not having any competition since Dench was playing it dowdy and the the corpse wasn't much of a character. She and her tentative boyfriend (neither of them are named, while we do hear the husband and wife's names) spend the early hours of the morning wandering the docks until it is time for them to catch their trains, she running hot and cold with him as if undecided if she can trust him or not.
The characters may interact with one another, but the dead body is there for a purpose, and that would appear to be some "we all die alone" moral as each of them are lonely in their way, with the possible exception of the husband who has his best friend (Joe Melia taking care of what humour there is) to keep him company. But the lack of communication between men and women insists on driving a wedge between the people we see, with the corpse, never identified even at the end, symbolic of how they will never truly understand one another as it is taken care of by men who treat the deceased like just another job. That this reached a bleak conclusion was perhaps no surprise, considering the manner in which it began was pretty bleak as well, though you did feel the pressure of its gloom after a while that even Melia's manful efforts did not lift. That one couple is miserable separately and the other is miserable together summed up the theme; if it gets too much you could always drown yourself in a river. Plaintive music by John Barry.