Monday, 12 August 2013

The Ipcress File

Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) presents the antithesis of James Bond in this 1965 Brit-Spy drama - the first of a trilogy. Set at the height of the cold war and based on Len Deighton's 1962 novel, this film offers a brilliant snapshot of British class structure where rank and regiment and club are everything. Palmer is cockney working class but has a taste for good food and beautiful women. He grinds his own coffee freshly every morning and brews it in a cafetiere. He shops for imported ingredients in a supermarket - a recent innovation in sixties Britain. His chirpy ironic and insolent insubordination sets him against his officer-class masters who, whilst viewing him as possessing valuable talents, ultimately see him as expendable.

The story revolves around the 'brain drain' and brain washing which were live concepts in the unstable world of the sixties - an ever-present part of the nightly news and spy films during my childhood! Apparently the type of brain washing depicted in this film was modelled on a project the CIA were running in Canada, so it was based in reality. I've seen this film many times - but this was probably the first time in a cinema. I know it is a spy film and spies live in the shadows and dark alley ways, but for me the print had lost any hint of brightness and the colours were too subdued and muted - apart from the wonderful Routemaster buses and telephone boxes which appeared a lurid scarlet. With the Americans depicted more as interfering adversaries and the KGB nowhere in sight, it has a different slant to most sixties spy fare.

The fact that the film remains so popular - 7.3 on IMDb and 7.7 on Rotten Tomatoes is a testimony to its simple conception, strong story and great acting - no CGI or massive special effects here. In 1999 it was voted number 59 of the top UK films of the 20th century in a BFI poll.

Apart from its lack of colour, this is still a vibrant and extremely watchable film. The performances and story are engaging, the locations chosen to promote the Britishness of this Pinewood Studios film. Fifty years on, watching this again gave me a warm nostalgic glow for the London of my childhood. It was an all round good experience. I'll give it 8.5/10. When was the last time you saw it?

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