Blu-Ray Review – Charlie Bubbles

Charlie Bubbles is the one and only film directed by Albert Finney (not counting a TV movie in the ‘80s), and features Liza Minnelli’s first credited role. It might be a bit over-rated—some people think it’s the great British film ever made—but it showcases Finney in he role of an incredibly successfully working-class guy who has made it so big as a writer that he could just about get away with anything. He can indulge himself as he pleases, but he ends up going back to visit Salford. His ex-wife and kid are still living up north.

Minnelli plays his secretary, who he’s also having a relationship with. Its an odd movie for its time: on the one hand it’s a fairly normal kitchen-sink drama at times, with a script by Shelagh Delaney (Taste of Honey); on the other hand, it launches into surrealism now and again. That brings it into the same territory of the films Lindsay Anderson was doing at the time, like If… Delaney had written a short for Anderson the previous year, which also merged the same two polar opposites.

One of the most notable things about Charlie Bubbles is that it was one of the films that was on the programme of the 1968 Cannes Film Festival, before the whole thing was cut short because of the events of May 1968 in France. That has given it a certain legendary status like all of the films in the competition. It may have been shown or withdrawn by Finney I can’t find anything to confirm either way.

It’s one of those movies about an aimless, wandering rich person, a genre I usually can’t stand. But this is one of the better ones, and you can also definitely see a heavy influence of it on the film Somewhere. It was one of the first features shot by Peter Suschitsky, one of the best cinematographers, though one who isn’t as widely known as he should be. Suschitsky first gained notice for his work with Peter Watkins, and then the Rocky Horror Picture Show and some Ken Russell movies. Later credits include The Empire Strikes Back and, perhaps most famously, every single David Cronenberg feature film from Dead Ringers onwards. While Charlie Bubbles isn’t his very best work, it makes it more than your standard British fare about a lucky, louche guy.

Finney is of course great, and Minnelli showed why she would soon become a star. Billie Whitelaw won a BAFTA for her performance as Charlie Bubbles’s wife.

The disc includes interviews with cast and crew, audio commentaries with Thirza Wakefield and Melanie Williams, an appreciation of the film by Danny Leigh, an interview with John Harding about Shelagh Delaney’s work, trailers and an image gallery. Also notable are some test footage done by Stephen Frears, who was Finney’s PA on the film, and a booklet with new and old writing on the film.

★★★★

Ian Schultz

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