Kamis, 16 Desember 2010

Stephen Frears - A Day Out (1972)

Halifax, Sunday May 17th, 1911. Gregory Wilkins gingerly tiptoes down the hall, picks up his bike and inadvertently alerts his mother. He panics and rides off. Mrs Ackroyd breaks off from her child's teething to prepare sandwiches for her husband. Meanwhile, Mrs Shorter is berating her husband over the time he spends with the cycling club, saying it's not fit for grown men and especially not on a Sunday.

Shorter, Ackroyd and Wilkins pass other cyclists, and they eventually congregate around a map held by Mr Shuttleworth, the founder of their cycling club. Others include plump Percy Baldring, balding Eric Gibson, socialist Henry Boothroyd and Mr Tetley and his slow-witted relative Ernest, who ride together on a tandem. They discuss the absence of Edgar Appleton and decide to let him catch up. Edgar has indeed overslept, and rushes out with his bike when he realises.

The club cycles through Halifax. They pause outside a large gated mansion where young Cross joins them. They ride into the countryside, where they stop for a break. Shuttleworth denies that he's tired, and the older men discuss changes to the countryside, concluding that for all the rise of industry and urban development it'll be a long time before they build up England.

The journey recommences: Percy is gradually overtaken and the tandem has a brief accident. The club stops at "The Sportsmen" for a drink. Boothroyd explains his theory that the reason England has never had a revolution is that drink and Methodism have combined to distract the population through intoxication and visions of Heaven.

They cycle through woody glades, Shuttleworth devises a short cut, but any time saved is lost after he has a puncture. Edgar goes to get a bowl of water from a nearby house, but his interest in the woman who answers the door is quickly damped down by the appearance of her burly husband. Shorter repairs the puncture, lecturing the others on the technique.

The club cycles past a pony and trap ridden by two women. Edgar makes eyes at the younger one, but her mother's disapproval is all too clear. They walk their bikes through a cowfield, which Shorter complains is in a disgusting state.

Finally, they reach the end of their journey - the ruins of Fountains Abbey. There, they have lunch. Gregory worries about being missed in church, and is mocked for his concern. Eric carves his name into the wall and is reprimanded by Shuttleworth. They discuss the lives of the monks who once lived there.

Two young ladies, Connie and Louisa, appear on the other side of the bank. They cross the river on stepping stones. Edgar tosses a stone in the water, splashing them. They laugh. He tosses another one, splashing Shuttleworth and Shorter. They find this less amusing. Boothroyd opines that there will never be another war. Eric captures a squirrel in his coat. Edgar goes off with the women, inspiring Shorter to give vent to misogynist views.

Young Cross goes for a wander, and finds himself in a lavish country garden, at the edge of which is Florence, a girl his age who has stung her hand on a nettle. Cross finds her a dock leaf, and the two begin a hesitant conversation. She invites him to tea with her disapproving parents. Cross feels awkward, and when Florence's brothers invite him to play croquet, he declines, using Florence's absorption in the game as an excuse to slip away.

Edgar seduces Connie as Louisa complains that she's bored, and threatens to inform on her. The remaining club members play cricket. Shorter is bowled out and disputes the decision and storms off.

The club cycles back home, calling for Edgar in the process. He quickly ends his liaison with Connie, saying that he must go for the good of the club. She is unimpressed. Florence watches them leave from her horse. Shuttleworth pauses, clearly unwell. He recovers, but the others look concerned. They cycle into the twilight.

On the anniversary of Armistice Day, November 11th 1919, the surviving club members gather round a memorial and sing. Shorter points out details to Shuttleworth. They stand bare-headed in the town square.

Alan Bennett's first television play, A Day Out, was written in 1969 in the wake of the success of his play Forty Years On (1967), and eventually filmed by Stephen Frears for the BBC in 1972.

It shows a day in the life of the members of a Halifax cycling club in 1911, following them from the town to the ruins of Fountains Abbey and eavesdropping on their conversations, which range from the inconsequential to the reflective (the design of medieval bridges, the inevitable "Course, all this were fields when I were a lad") to the ruefully ironic.

The most telling example of the latter comes when Boothroyd explains why there will never be another war, as the play is set three years before World War I cut swathes through a generation - and, as the 1919 coda implies, many of the club's members as well.

We also learn about their relationships with women: Gregory's palpable fear of his mother, Cross' shy hesitancy with Florence, Edgar's confident sexuality, Ackroyd's happy domesticity and, finally, Shorter's bitter misogyny ("There's no nobility about them, women. It's all mundane - one day to the next. No large view, no theory, all practice.").

For them, the day out provides a temporary freedom from dull routine, offering them at the very least a chance to air feelings to sympathetic ears, if not rather more potent opportunities - though both Edgar and Cross ultimately turn down what's offered them in favour of loyalty to the club.

Somewhat surprisingly, given that the BBC had been broadcasting colour for some time, A Day Out is in black and white. This was because it would make it easier to achieve a convincing period feel on a small budget - and the hazy, lyrical cinematography recalls the work of Jean Renoir, particularly the similarly brief Partie de Campagne (France, 1936), which also had a dark, pessimistic undertone.

The cast was a mixture of professionals and locals - Paul Shane, who would later achieve fame in Hi-De-Hi! (BBC, 1980-88), was a Rotherham club comedian while Brian Glover, discovered by Ken Loach in Kes (1969) was still alternating acting and wrestling. And if Florence bears a striking resemblance to Virginia Woolf, that's because the actress Virginia Bell is her great-niece. Bennett would pay oblique homage to the novelist six years later in Me! I'm Afraid of Virginia Woolf (LWT, 1978).

Michael Brooke

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