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UK/USA 1971
Directed by
Ken Russell
137 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Boy Friend, The

Sandy Wilson’s 1950s stage musical, a homage to the classic productions of Broadway’s golden years of the 20’s and 30s is a purposively lightweight affair but Ken Russell ‘s marvellously excessive adaptation of it is as delight from beginning to end.

The main story concerns a tatty theatrical troupe in the south of England in the 1920s performing a musical about romantic intrigues at a finishing school for young women in the South of France. When the leading lady (played by an uncredited Russell-regular, Glenda Jackson) breaks her ankle, Polly (Twiggy), the mousy assistant stage manager, is forced to take her part. And when a famous Hollywood film producer (Vladek Sheybal) turns up to see the show the normally catty back-stage shenanigans become especially heated as everyone competes for what they hope will be a ticket to Hollywood.  Meanwhile the cheesy mistaken identity musical plays out with a nervous Polly madly in love with the leading man, Tony (Christopher Gable, another Russell-egular) who cares nothing for her.

The large cast is excellent with the then “It Girl”, fashion model Twiggy surprising everyone with her turn in the lead role but it is the staging which carries the day, Russell with the help of production designer, Tony Walton, costume designer, Shirley Russell, and cinematographer David Watkin unleashing a fabulously over-the-top reworking of the classic Busby Berkeley, Depression-era musical such as 42nd Street, now played out in glorious colour and with huge close-ups.

Getting cold feet, the producers pruned the film to 125m for its UK release and truly hacked it to 109m for its release in the US where understandably, it bombed.  Although arguably too long with the Berkeley-inspired  film-within-a-film of a group of pensioners being wheeled around a boardwalk being well-deserving of omission, for those who like such things, The Boyfriend is a treat and the wittiest instance of Russell’s penchant for stylistic excess.




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