With the release of a brand new restoration, Michael Winner’s West 11 has come to Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms from 5th July 2021. Is this 1963 drama worth a look today?
Studio Canal present a flawless restoration of Michael Winner’s first significant project as a Director. Visually this edition is stunning. The monochrome photography still allows the subjects to pop out of the screen. Sometimes when a film of this era is restored, the sound does not seem to get equal treatment. However, in this case, the soundtrack has just as much clarity as the image. Together, they help create a very engaging film.
Like many films of its type in this era, there is an air of the “swinging London” stereotype just before it became steeped in technicolour psychedelia. The restlessness of a generation, searching for meaning in the world and railing against the long-accepted conventions of society, is depicted here with perhaps more depth and subtlety than some of its contemporaries.
West 11 begins with the main character, Joe (Alfred Lynch), and his on-off girlfriend Ilsa. We gather that they spend the night together regularly, yet are as indifferent to each other as to what society thinks about them. We soon find that Joe and his group of friend-acquaintances are as cavalier about most things in their lives, including relationships, financial commitments and employment.
A former army officer, Richard Dyce (Eric Portman), drifts into Joe’s circle. He seems as dissatisfied with convention as the rest of them, loosely taking up with disillusioned Georgia (Diana Dors).
Meanwhile, Joe drifts unsurely through life, disapproved of by the authority figures in his life: his employer, his landlady and even his mother. Things begin to go downhill for him and he loses interest in his relationships. When Joe’s mother dies, Dyce takes advantage of the moment, leading Joe onto a path that previously would have revolted him.
We are not rushed to action to represent the characters’ journey. In fact, the climax – such as it is – does not come until the closing minutes, with a very accepting and resigned final scene. Joe and Ilsa accept the inevitability of all they were rebelling against.
The pacing of this film is masterful. The audience feels swept along with the events in the story just as much as the characters. It is almost irresistible. Nothing about West 11 is overdone: the running time of 93 minutes does not outstay its welcome and the balance between despair, confusion and desperation is perfect. Yet the darkness merely lingers under the surface, like a menacing shadow. We do not need repressive shots of dirty streets and back alleys to make Joe’s world feel grubby. All is achieved by suggestion, by character reaction and very clever photography and writing.
The DVD and Blu-ray editions of West 11 include an interview with film historian Matthew Sweet and the theatrical trailer.
Although Diana Dors was quite a star by this time, she is used sparingly, merely a pawn in the main story to convey a mood. The film is richer for it: every character is allowed to represent their element of a kind of collective consciousness which makes for a very well constructed world. This leaves the audience in no doubt as to who the characters are, and therefore instead of anything feeling shocking, we are completely in Joe’s world and in his mindset: somewhat locked into life’s inevitability.
Alfred Lynch portrays Joe with skill and compassion, and Kathleen Breck as Ilsa makes us identify with her by the end, despite some of her less than attractive shortcomings in character. Every actor here does a masterful job, so that the audience is completely drawn along with the story.
West 11 stands up as well today, as a view of a moment in time, a consciousness, as it did in 1963. This is a very interesting and rewarding 93 minutes to spend.