was the multimedia phenomenon of its era. Starting out as a novel by Yorkshire writer Keith Waterhouse, it rapidly became a long-running stage play, adapted by Waterhouse with playwright Willis Hall, which lead to the movie, scripted by Waterhouse and Hall for John Schlesinger to direct, then a stage musical and finally a spin-off TV series. Do you get the feeling it caught the mood of the times?
The basic set-up owes a lot to James Thurber's classic short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Our hero, Billy Fisher, lives at home in a Bradford semi with his nagging parents and works as a lowly clerk in an undertaker's parlour. But, in his imagination he lives a rich and varied fantasy life as gallant military leader, suave socialite, best-selling novelist and so forth. Trouble is, he can't always keep fantasy and reality apart, any more than he can the keep two girls he's engaged to separate. Not to mention his other problems
Schlesinger's direction brings out the desperation behind the comedy, and Tom Courtenay, at once defiant and hangdog, slips perfectly into the role created on stage by Albert Finney. But the whole cast's a joy, not least the great Leonard Rossiter as undertaker Mr Shadrach, Billy's saturnine boss. And then there's Julie Christie--the luminous spirit of the Swinging 60s--in her first starring role as the girl who offers Billy a chance of real escape. At the end, when she takes the train to London, away from the smoke and the grimness "oop" north, the whole British New Wave went with her.
On the DVD: just the theatrical trailer which is a fairly crass affair. There's been no remastering, it seems, but both sound and vision are clean enough and the print preserves the original's full 2.35:1 widescreen ratio. --Philip Kemp
Undertaker's clerk Billy (Tom Courtenay) escapes his dreary small town existence in a 1950s Northern town by living in a fantasy world where he realises his ambitions. When his job, unsympathetic working class family and two fiancees threaten to become too much, he meets fashionable Julie Christie, who offers him his one chance for real escape.