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Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly
on 13 July 2012
The Long Arm [DVD]
This is a profound little work even if, on the face of it, it might appear otherwise. But therein lies the clue--paradox (non est, nisi est); and if anybody should draw a different conclusion I should be interested to hear from them.
"You must have rules" Mumsy reiterates time and again. "For without rules . . ."
In science we have laws; societies have laws; in sport we have rules and so on. These are human constructs; the natural world, in which we have a small part to play, functions regardless of rule or law. Yes, in physics we have the laws of thermodynamics'; in astronomy we have Kepler's laws of planetary motion and, again, these are all human constructs aimed at giving us a better understanding of the functioning of the natural world. But (and there are always "buts") in the natural world number and formula count for nothing.
In society, so the popular aphorism has it, rules are made in order to be broken (paradox). In sport you cannot have games without rules, yet competitors frequently break the rules in order to try to gain the advantage especially where material gain is to be had. There are laws and codes of conduct that are supposed to regulate behaviour in banking and commerce, yet top dogs are found to be continually flouting the rules; and when they are found out and obliged to resign, they generally walk off with a handsome dividend in the back pocket. (The fun from breaking the rules. We wear clothing in order to enjoy the excitement of having it removed in situations where full dress is generally acceptable, and so on.)
So this film's central theme is about the fun accruing from surreptitiously breaking the house rules. (The house in this case being a large mansion set in extensive grounds that are obviously above the country's laws or, perhaps, hosted by a parallel universe?) There are subplots, of course, such as the coupling of sex and violence--in a surreal sense you understand--the swamp of bodily, sexual experimentation, again suggestive rather than graphic.
The characters all achieve a level of bizarre acceptability, in the case of the "children" and "guests" by being dressed some of the time in school uniforms. It is quite "normal" for Sonny (Howard Trevor) clothed as an archer to bump off (sent to the angels) guest from room number five by putting an arrow through his body; it is the same when girly (Vanessa Howard) operates, but we will omit the detail for fear of spoiling the film for you . . . Mumsy played by the pencil-eyed Ursula Howells approaching middle years is a brilliant choice--she conveys a similar but much briefer messenger of death character in an earlier Ealing Studios Classic "The Long Arm". And what happens to Nanny is all part of the human trait of envy: as we implied at the outset, the piece is in some measure a microcosm of human behaviour at its worst smeared with a veneer of respectability.
This is not a film I should wish to view more than twice, I think. This is not to denigrate the achievement but simply to say that its message, in common with many truths, can become difficult to live with; yet live with it we must for, in the words of the author of "The Cicerone": `We are all capable of compassion; we are all capable of committing atrocities. The potential to be a danger to our fellows and to ourselves is always there lurking just beneath the surface (in the subconscious). It all comes down to the question of control, how we discipline our behaviour throughout life. The make or break is a fine divide'.