Brighton Rock, British Poetic Realism

Brighton Rock, British Poetic Realism

Static Mass Rating: 3/5
Optimum Releasing 

Release date: February 28th 2011
Certificate (UK): PG
Running time: 89 minutes

Year of production: 1947

Director: John Boulting

Cast: Richard Attenborough, Hermoine Baddeley, Carol Marsh, William Hartnell,Wylie Watson

As part of Optimum’s ongoing restorations of classics such as The Railway Children, (1970) Breathless (1960) and Peeping Tom (1960), now comes Brighton Rock, the original 1947 version, digitally restored for this release.

Adapted from the 1937 novel by Graham Greene, it tells the story of Pinkie (Richard Attenborough), a ruthless and sadistic criminal who runs a protection racket in Brighton. In an attempt to cover up a recent murder, Pinkie ends up marrying Rose (Carol Marsh), the only witness who can tie him to the crime.

While Rose believes she can smoothen out her husband’s rough edges, Ida (Hermoine Baddeley) thinks otherwise as she investigates her friend’s murder.

Brighton Rock

Along with The Fallen Idol (1948) and The Third Man (1949), Brighton Rock has been hailed as one of the great examples of British Noir.

It holds some of the traits of Noir but not all of them; a doomed relationship, a corrupt world and events which spiral beyond control. I find it’s not enough to classify the film as Noir, to do so would be to strip Noir films of their expressionistic qualities entirely. Instead, the term “crime thriller” might be more fitting, but it’s also something else…something different. Andrew Spicer, in his book Film Noir (2002) notes that British films such as Brighton Rock have more in common with French Poetic Realism…

Brighton Rock is at times almost whimsical but by the third act as it nears its climax, things do get darker. It doesn’t contain the more recognisable traits of Film Noir such a voice-overs, flashbacks or femme fatales but I find this is a good thing because by its epilogue there’s nothing more chilling, poignant or heartbreaking than Pinkie’s voice being heard from the record player with the needle stuck in a groove.

With its ending, it has a more poetic finale than most other Noir films it’s usually lumped with. Therefore, shouldn’t it be more fitting for us to create an entirely new term for it? British Poetic Realism.

Brighton Rock

The film also brings its own blend of moodiness and brutality mixed with Catholicism and morality. We see Brighton as a holiday spot for families contrasted with seedy lodgings and a criminal underworld and we’re reminded that for every picture perfect community, there’s always a dirty underbelly. A definite classic in its own right, but Film Noir it’s certainly not.

This restored version is presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio and is noticeably clearer, sharper and cleaner than on previous releases. The disc does not contain any deleted scenes. It would have been great to see these included (if they still exist). Greene once spoke about scenes where the religious elements had to be either toned down or deleted:

Brighton Rock

“Apparently one is allowed a certain latitude in using the name of God as an expletive, but any serious quotation from Bible is not permissible on the English screen.”

What it does contain is an interview with Rowan Joffe, director of the recent remake of Brighton Rock (2010) who talks about his first encounter with the book at school and the British Noir elements of the film. There’s also a vintage radio interview with John Boulting and Richard Attenborough from 1954 which is over an hour long. Conducted by Stanley Reed at the NFT, it features an audience Q&A while it plays a few behind-the-scenes images on loop for the entire duration.


  • Interview with Rowan Joffe (20.11)
  • John Boulting and Richard Attenborough Interviewed at the NFT in 1954 (1.07.57)

While short on special features, this restored version of Brighton Rock will probably appeal to those who haven’t seen it before but are curious after watching Rowan Joffe’s version.

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