Brighton Rock

Mods, Rockers, and not a donkey ride in sight. DOMINIC KEEN heads for the seaside for this 60s set gang movie.

brighton brighton rock dominic keen Film gangster helen mirren john hurt noir sam riley

Directed by Rowan Joffe

[rating: 2.5/5]

It’s difficult to know whether Brighton Rock is intended for fans of the 1947 noir classic, but I expect that watching with a prior insight into its greatness is easier than trying to find it anew in this grisly gang flick.

The tone was set as the “BBC films” logo solemnly emerged and then slunk back into darkness with all the exuberance of a cold bowl of porridge in an East-enders’ grotty sink. We follow Pinkie, a youthful yet menacing Sam Riley (Control), and his rise through one of what seems like innumerable gangs circulating around Brighton pier.

Set against the backdrop of the 1960s Mods vs. Rockers riots, Pinkie’s mentor is offed under his helpless gaze by a rival gang member in a gruesomely understated knifing at the opening. Thus the foundations of a classic revenge film are laid, as Pinkie and cronies vow to punish rival Colleoni. The man flees the pier only to have a hunk of Brighton rock (the stone variety) embedded into his skull by the vengeful Pinkie, with the body quickly attracting unwanted media attention. The entanglement of an innocent bystander, Rose, played by an apprehensive and tortured Andrea Riseborough, is the final pillar of setup.

From this point the film explores the thoroughly abhorrent path Pinkie takes to secure the damning photograph from Rose, the key witness to the gang’s crime. Befriending and seducing the unlucky waitress, a horrible relationship builds between the two as Rose falls in love with her handsomely dressed suitor while he concentrates on establishing himself as the new don of Brighton. His treacherous double-dealings and betrayals are lost amidst the confusion of background riots, as the sharply dressed Mods roll into town on their scooters against the leather clad rockers, offering the film’s stand out moments as crowds surge around the Brighton pier in momentous discord.

The potential shown in such scenes is merely incidental, as the characters are neither likeable nor charming enough to warrant looking past their glowering indecencies. In particular Pinkie, on whose character arc the film pivots, lacks the charisma needed for the audience to excuse or forget about what a nasty piece of work he really is. There isn’t evidence enough to believe in Rose’s love for someone who reciprocates only during her breakdowns in public, other than to assume her a psychologically unstable young lady from the very start, and thus regard her character’s decline with a little more than a sense of injustice.

In the denouement atop Beachy Head the film seems to evolve into a different beast, almost an ending from another movie, as Pinkie’s patience with Rose capitulates, mirroring that of the audience who should be growing tiresome of the designer gloom and torment of the film. There is some solace to be gained in a very neat, if contrived, twist at the very end, but that the highest recommendation is inspiring viewers to hunt down the original, then what was the point?