BR: Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1987)

January 4, 2015 | By


RitaSueAndBobToo_BRFilm: Excellent

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Very Good

Label: Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  April 8, 2014

Genre:  Comedy

Synopsis: A married realty agent is completely oblivious to the wrongness of engaging in a threesome with two schoolgirls within a small town.

Special Features:  Audio Commentary with producer Nick Redman and film historian Julie Kirgo / Isolated mono music & effects track / 4-page colour booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.





If Rita, Sue and Bob Too is a compact sampling of Alan Clarke’s talent, Britain surely lost a major filmmaker when he passed away in 1990 at the age of 54. With his roots in episodic and later kitchen sink TV at the BBC, Clarke is perhaps best known for grim dramas like Scum (1979) and Made in Britain (1982), but this film version of two fused plays by Andrea Dunbar shows his adeptness in handling serious issues with an eye for the ridiculous, and with an extra special emphasis on the risqué, and the patently offensive.

Clarke’s film is highly provocative: its premise of two schoolgirls having a threesome with a teacher was a poke at Conservative Thatcher England, but it’s also a relationship that’s doubly shocking because Bob often trolls the peripherals of the school grounds in the hope of having a go with the girls when he should be on the job selling real estate to fellow middle class wankers like himself.

Even if his wife Michelle (Lesley Sharp) would engage in a little foreplay, Bob would likely continue to fib to his better half and take the girls for a hilltop shag, but the deadness of his marriage seems to ensure Bob will never stop obsessing over pretty Sue (Michelle Holmes) and Rita (Siobhan Finneran), two girls living with their extended families in grungy working class blocks of apartment littered with old cars and rubbish.

Their lives in a shithole don’t seem to bother Bob, and he’s only worried about his not-so-secret threesome when he’s recognized by one of Michelle’s friends at a dance hall in which multi-generation revelers bump and grind as couples and as a human snake to a song by gimmick band Black Lace that begins with the lyrics “We’re having a gang-bang! We’re having a ball!”

It is this central scene that should have any viewer gasping in shock; if not at the lyrics, then the insane glee that bleeds from the revelers who seem perfectly fine chanting the song’s moronic yet offensive chorus over and over again. There are so many small moments in which characters spout insults and swagger with appalling attitude that it’s clear this is very much a comedy where drama veers into bathos or the surreal, and as wrong as Bob’s relationship with the girls may be, he’s likely the one being dominated by two savvy, smarter-than-he-thinks lasses (and his ever-ready penis).

Inevitably, all this backseat & empty house shagging comes to a head, but the film just tears into crazier terrain until the girls, their families, Bob, and Michelle all collide on various residential streets, and Clarke caps the film with a scene that’s bawdy, hysterical, and perhaps on par with the naughty sex comedies Britain was cranking out in the late sixties early seventies.

Dunbar’s plays may have been faithfully adapted by the author, but Clarke builds an artifice redolent of sex comedies like The Sex Thief (1974), or sexploitation sleaze like Pete Walker’s Cool It Carol! (1970), adding layers of jabs designed to shock the most conservative elements in contemporary society. The only storyline that gets ugly has Sue falling for a Pakistani boy who turns Hyde and beats the crap out of her in fits of jealousy – a rather stark racial caricature in which all South Asian men are apparently latent wife beaters. (The thuggish boy does get his comeuppance after feigning the most ridiculous hasty suicide in film.)

Although there’s a Region 1 collection of Clarke’s BBC TV productions, little of his work exists on disc, making this Twilight Time Blu-ray a real treat. Like Resurrected (1989), another Film Four theatrical production, it’s a first-rate HD transfer with gorgeous colours and fine details that bring out the worst of suburban hairstyles. (Whatever Film Four is doing with their HD masters, these are really beautiful transfers. Bravo.)

Clarke’s use of long Steadicam takes to capture distance and the full dramatic spectrum of the actors’ performances is marvelous, and hypnotic. The locations are 100% real, and in spite of the bad hairstyles, Ivan Strasburg’s cinematography restrains colours to off-whites, leaving anything garish for showcase scenes like the ‘gang bang’ dance hall atrocity.

Also of note is Michael Kamen’s very odd, very sparse score which is playful, sardonic, and sometimes deliberately grating to emphasize Bob’s ego and lousy taste in music. Kamen’s music is housed in an isolated mono music & effects track, and it’s hard to believe he scored the film the same year as Lethal Weapon (1987) and Suspect (1987), a rock-styled, epic action score, and a sleek orchestral suspense score, respectively.

Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo provide a steady and very engaging commentary track, covering every aspect of the film’s production, its snapshot of Thatcher Britain, mores, Dunbar’s tragic life (she died at the terribly young age of 29), and the outrageous characters whose immoral behaviour is tempered by darkly comedic dialogue and moments of embarrassment.

Kirgo is especially spot-on in pointing out the subtleties in script and performance which reveal Clarke’s film to be more than a provocative comedy. While this might be a film wholly unknown to North American audiences, it’s a real treat, and perhaps an unusual but worthy intro to Clarke’s oeuvre as a provocateur, and a fine director.



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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