Wednesday 31 March 2021

On Blu-ray - David Hare ponders the elements of THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH (Cecil B. DeMIlle, USA, 1952)

Cecil B. DeMille fascinatingly sidelines his two most interesting, if second credited, players in his 1952 The Greatest Show on Earth

First, buried beneath overwhelming clown makeup and drag, Jimmy Stewart (above), and in exactly the same "adjacent" frame position, doubtless assigned by De Mille's cinematic eye to the minor fringe details of every two shot, Gloria Grahame (below) as Chuck Heston's barely acknowledged love interest. 

A fascinating movie that plays back and forth between spectacle and reality, suicidal boredom of a singular personality and the rush of show time.  

Even the soundstage setups and filming which take up no more than 25% of the picture are given a weirdly dark and dull aspect to support the relatively restrained open air shots which DeMille appears to use to bury any hint of the boisterous joy of either the circus itself or this gorgeous three strip Technicolor material shot by George Barnes and stunningly reproduced in the new Paramount Blu-ray.
The real balancing act in this most rejected of major movies is DeMille's balancing act between reportage and fiction. Good mood and bad, enlivenment and termination.  

Open and shut. A final movie or merely the penultimate?

Filmic Postcard: Janice Tong Reports from the 32nd Alliance Française French Film Festival 2021 (Part 4) - EIFFEL (Martin Bourbolon) and NIGHT SHIFT (Anne Fontaine)

Gustave Eiffel

Is the mark of an actor-on-the rise realised when they make slight but noticeable cosmetic changes to their appearances? Does that outer ‘shell’ and the way they look pave the way for a more masterly artist? I do not claim to have answers to these questions, but I’ve been thinking about these concerns over the years as I encounter, with interest, the range of diverse faces across European and UK cinemas vs the more homogeneous faces of Hollywood. 


Romain Duris as Gustave Eiffel (centre) Eiffel

Romain Duris has an incredibly handsome face; and in aging, he really grew into his looks; however, I did notice that, at some point, he had his teeth whitened and straightened, and as such, conforming to Hollywood’s ideal star status. His thick hair is somewhat tamed in his latest film, Eiffel (2020) directed by Martin Bourboulon, where he plays the eponymous turn of the 19th Century civil engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, who achieved world-wide fame from his enormous feat, a structure that stands at exactly 300 metres tall, made solely of metal that, to this day, 132 years after it was built still attracts tourists from all over the world today. It is of course, the Eiffel Tower in Paris. 


Eiffel   the film, however asks of us to disregard anything we already know about the man, (and I must admit, I knew very little) to instead be swept away by the grandeur of Paris at the turn of the 19th Century; and to discover that at the heart of the story, a secret love affair from his youth. It is now years later, and he as the successful and determined working-class engineer, a father of five children to his late wife, is to suddenly be reminded of his irreconcilable love affair with the bourgeois Mayor of Bourdeau’s, only daughter - Adrienne Bourgès, played by Emma Mackey (you may know her as Maeve from the TV series Sex Education). This affair serves as the impetus for the story that is told in flashbacks. Now in 1887, it is years later, he has the unfortunate pleasure to rekindle this acquaintance, but she is now his friend’s wife. 

Emma Mackey, Romain Duris, Eiffel


Is this fill-fated romance one that has been reimagined? Perhaps so, but the film is set at the cusp of the 1887 World Fair competition, and Eiffel, with the memory of his dissolute affair opening up fresh wounds, is spurred on to make a mark for himself by winning the World Fair; and to show to his colleagues once and for all his true mantel.


I asked the question of appearance at the start of this article because that is the question that comes to mind when watching Duris in this particular film. Whilst I’m not one for historic accuracies in a romanticised filmic view or filmic-universe of a notable figure in history; it is however interesting that Martin Bourboulon casted him in the title role, considering he bore little to no resemblance to Eiffel himself. Other films such as Bonello’s Saint Laurent (2014) or Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent (2014) both had lead actors with a passing resemblance to Laurent. The whole film seemed to be about a ‘show of success’ or the appearance of triumph over adversity - as it culminated in the closing segments of the film. 


What we have here, as a result, is that we are treated with a film that is a Hollywoodised fairytale. Although it is still good to see Paris in the turn of the century, and better still, to learn from this film the untold brilliance of Eiffel - he must have been a genius to invent the compressed-air caissons system that stablised the base of the Eiffel Tower; and the way this is calibrated to allow the machined parts (all manufactured in his studio) to meet up. This is despite the many outrages felt at the time, especially the intelligentsia’s response to the ‘monstrosity’ of this structure.  Guy de Maupassant famously said he had to leave Paris because of it. I found that there is immeasurable beauty in the lace-work, at the bottom tier, the lattice frame is delicate, or as delicate as metal structure can be; and shows refinement in its design. But of course, what triumphed for Gustave Eiffel was actually his audacity to make a permanent home for this structure at the heart of Paris. 


I preferred Duris in more subtle roles, such as in Christophe Honoré’s Dans Paris (2006), or as the love-lorn and anti-hero / concert-pianist-wanna-be in The Beat That My Heart Skipped(2005) or even as the person who is running away from his own identity in The Big Picture (2010) which I reviewedl ast year. 


I guess I like these kinds of characters because they seem to be closer to posing those moral questions that are at the heart of humanity.


And this kind of moral dilemma is the topic of Anne Fontaine’s latest offering Night Shift / Police (2020).

Night Shift  asks us to question our moral code
Virginie Efira, Payman Maadi


I’m still wondering about the words ECILOP - that was shown at the start of the film…why this mirror image? It bothers me not knowing what this signifies.


I don’t want to give anything away in terms of storyline, but this is a film that is a lot slower paced than you would expect from a police-style narrative. And there’s a reason for this… and why it is called Night Shift. Is it a night that will change the lives of the three policemen who were involved in the narrative? No, I don’t think so.  Their lives carry on as per usual in the cold light of day, and that perhaps is the crux of what the film is trying to get at. 


What changes when justice is served, but not the kind of justice that you believe is morally right. 

Omar Sy, Virginie Efira and Grégory Gadebois


Whilst I have admired Fontaine’s previous works, I found Reinventing Marvin (2017), a film that I had the good fortune to see at the French Film Festival a couple of years back, where she was both writer and director, to be a mature and really well-told story. As was The Innocents (2016). 

Virginie Efira, Night Shift


But I found Night Shift to be a little too slow for my liking, it was partly let down by the cast, Omar Sy was just Omar Sy, and Virginie Efira was not great in her role here. Coupled with that, certain elements, like the slow-motion shots of the horse that is meant to be a poignant moment, meaning our relationship with animals trumps our relationship with other human beings; that there is always a barrier or code which we go by. Well it’s just a bit formulaic. I get that these revelations are just that… banal, and there’s the sting - we no longer flinch from the violence that has become inherent in our societies. But I think it can be told differently.


I once read somewhere that they played Handel’s Dixit Dominus over the radio to mark the end of WWII, so it is with the grace of Bach’s Sonata No. 5 in F minor BWV 1015 - the Adagio movement  played by Glenn Gould and Jaime Laredo, that Anne Fontaine closes the sequence of events of the night. The inescapable moral horror of the night is transcended through the contemplative beauty of this piece of music. I thank her for introducing me to this recording - this is a piece of music that I have been playing every day since I left the theatre. You can find the exact piece here, or it can be downloaded as a single track from iTunes from the Glenn Gould Remastered: The Complete Columbia Album Collection, which is my preferred recording of the piece.

Note that Alliance Française has extended their Sydney French Film Festival season until the 5th April

Monday 29 March 2021

CINEMA REBORN MARCH NEWSLETTER #3 – The final four titles to complete the 2021 Program

Bjork, The Juniper Tree

Cinema Reborn has announced the final films in its 2021 program screening at the Ritz Cinemas Randwick from 29 April to 2 May.


Full details of all ten programs for the 2021 season can be found  IF YOU CLICK HERE 


In the meantime we are proud to present three remarkable feature films and an additional award-winning Australian experimental film to complete our selection

Friday 30 April at 6.30 pm

LE AMICHE/THE GIRLFRIENDS (Michelangelo Antonioni, Italy, 1955, 105 minutes)



 “what makes [Le amiche] so bracing -- so sad and, sometimes, so funny -- is that its heroines are fallible, flawed, vain and powerful, each in her own way. They often make one another miserable, but their company is always a pleasure.  (A. O. Scott, The New York Times)

Four women friends try to make sense of the suicide attempt by a fifth. Perhaps Michelangelo Antonioni’s greatest early work before he shook the world with the trilogy begun with L’Avventura.It bears the first signs of the director’s cinema-changing style.  As the friends try to make sense of their world, they find themselves examining their own troubled romantic lives. A brilliantly observed depiction of Italian modern bourgeois life. (Source Intrafilm)  


Introduced by Jane Mills


Screening supported by the Italian Cultural Institute, Sydney


CAST  Eleonaro Rossi Drago, Gabriele Ferzetti, Franco Fabrizi, Yvonne Furneaux, Valentina Cortese


Le amiche was restored by the Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata. Restoration funding provided by Gucci and The Film Foundation.




Saturday 1 May at 3.30 pm

LE CORBEAU/ THE RAVEN (Henri-Georges Clouzot, France, 1943, 92 minutes)



Pierre Fresnay, Le Corbeau

The Nazi German-controlled Continental Films sought to hire the best of the Occupied France film industry. Among those who accepted the offer was the young director, Henri-Georges Clouzot who went on to make the The Wages of Fear. Of the thirty films made by the company, Le Corbeau is regarded as the finest, and also as Clouzot’s first, very controversial masterpiece. The film gives full vent to the dark misanthropy  of the times as it studies the effect of betrayal, suspicion and guilt on a village community living under the German Occupation. Source: StudioCanal

Introduced by John McDonald


CAST  Pierre Fresnay, Ginette Leclerc, Pierre Larquey, Micheline Francey





Sunday 2 May at 11.00 am


THE JUNIPER TREE (Nietzchka Keene, USA, 1990, 78 minutes)


SHADOW PANIC (Margot Nash, Australia, 1989, 25 minutes)




The Juniper Tree

A hit on its premiere at Sundance, Nietzchka Keene’s debut feature is also the first film for Icelandic singer Björk (billed here by her full name, Björk Guðmundsdóttir). Adapted from a tale by the Brothers Grimm — one of the gnarly unexpurgated ones, it’s a feminist retelling of the story of two sisters, Katla (Bryndis Petra Bragadóttir) and the younger Margit (Björk), find themselves homeless after their mother is burned as a witch…


Preceded by



Margot Nash’s award-winning short experimental film about internal and external states of emergency, about personal and collective shadows, about resistance and spirit.


Kaarin Fairfax, Shadow Panic

CASTS:  (The Juniper TreeBjörk Guðmundsdóttir, Bryndis Petra Bragadóttir, Guðrún Gísladóttir Valdimar Örn Flygenring

(Shadow Panic) Robin Laurie, Rose Wanganeen, Kaarin Fairfax, Elizabeth and Sandra Cook 


The program will be introduced by Margot Nash







CINEMA REBORN is managed and presented entirely an enthusiastic group of volunteers and supporters, presenters and writers. You can assist their work by making a tax-deductible donation OF ANY AMOUNT LARGE OR SMALL via the Australian Cultural Fund. For more information or to make a donation CLICK HERE


Lina Wertmuller at the Randwick Ritz - Jane Mills introduces Seven Beauties: The Films of Lina Wertmüller, a retrospective of seven films at the Ritz at Randwick, Sunday 28 March – Sunday 9 May, 4:00 pm.

This season of films is presented in collaboration with Cinema Reborn, the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, Sydney, and the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities. For tickets 

Introduction by Associate Professor Jane Mills, UNSW

I acknowledge the Bidgigal people of the Eora nation, the traditional owners of the land on which the Ritz Cinema is on and pay by respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging. Their lands were never ceded. Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land.

On a personal note, my thanks to Blythe Worthy who worked with me to wrangle the speakers. 

Lina Wertmüller’s films were hugely popular in the 1970s. Especially in America although also in Italy where her ‘commedia all’italiana, a film comedy style deriving its name from the title of Pietro Germi's film, Divorzio all'italiana (Divorce Italian Style, 1961), gave her a big following.

In 1975, she was the first woman ever nominated for an Oscar for best director for her film  Seven Beauties.And then “pouf!” She seemed to disappear although, in fact, she continued making films until 2014. 

Wertmüller re-emerged triumphantly in 2019 when – at last - she was awarded an honorary Oscar (below). At the ceremony, at which Greta Gerwig and Jane Campion declared they were huge fans, rather than humbly thanking the Academy, Wertmüller boldly reprimanded it for its sexism , insisting that Oscar should be renamed Anna. How very Wertmüller! 

A brief portrait. 

She was born in Rome to a devoutly Catholic middle class family. Her full name, incidentally, is Arcangela Felice Assunta Wertmüller von Elgg Spañol von Braueich. This might explain Wertmüller’s penchant for absurdly long film titles: she once made it into the Guinness Book of Records for a film’s longest title. But as she said: "It is not so terrible to be ridiculous - I am living proof of this point!"

Her provocative, rebellious character made itself apparent early: as a teenager, she was expelled from at least 11 schools,  the last for challenging Christian dogma that she objected to being taught as “the Truth.”. Doubtless, the nuns didn't much like her teenage passion for comic books, especially the Flash Gordon comic strip. She later cited this as an influence, explaining she found the framing “rather cinematic, more cinematic than most films.” (We'll see a character in this afternoon’s film, I basilischi, reading a Flash Gordon comic.) Upon leaving school at 17, she  began working in the theatre and directing avant-garde puppet theatre – two more influences that can be seen in several of her films. 

Wertmüller was like her films: over-the-top, in-your-face, emotional (often exhaustingly so), provocative and defiantly incorrect long before the term “politically correct” had been invented. She and her films were also perverse, funny and political. However, not everyone got or enjoyed her jokes: her satirical approach to gender and class politics often angered feminists and Marxists.  Leaving the Communist Party in 1959 and becoming an ardent, although never uncritical, socialist, Wertmüller was a socialist-feminist who could take a joke. She could dish them out too.There was probably no nose she didn't enjoy getting up. And no-one of any political persuasion she didn't enjoy sticking up her middle finger at. Which might make her and her films sound rather vulgar.  As,  gloriously, they often were.

Films in this retrospective

I Basilischi/The Lizards

Wertmüller’s film career didn't start exactly by chance. Although she did have the good fortune to have a girl friend whose husband happened to be Marcello Mastroianni. Who, of course, knew Fellini. What do you do if you want to learn how to make films? If you're Lina Wertmuller, you don't hang around hoping to get a job as a tea-maker or, if you're really lucky, a runner. You knock on Fellini’s door and demand to be his Assistant Director. She got the job on 8 ½ (1963) This led to her first film I Basilischi which she made in the same year.  Before introducing this film that we’re seeing today, let me briefly outline the films and speakers in store for us over the next six Sundays.

The Seduction of Mimi

On Sunday 4 April,in The Seduction of Mimi (Mimi’ metallurgico ferito nell’onore1972) you’ll meet the devilishly handsome Giancarlo Giannini (who I think of as Wertmuller’s muse) playing a Sicilian dockworker fighting Mafia corruption and the wiles of a beautiful young Communist organiser - with lack of success in both cases. This ferocious farce that won Wertmuller best-director award at Cannes will be introduced by Dr Blythe Worthy,researcher and adjunct academic at the University of Sydney and Film Reviews Editor for the Australian Journal of American Studies.

Love and Anarchy

On Sunday 11 April,we have Love and Anarchy (long title coming up: Film d'amore e d'anarchia, ovvero: stamattina alle 10, in via dei Fiori, nella nota casa di tolleranza…1973). Set in fascist Italy just before the outbreak of World War II, Giannini plays a farmer turned anarchist who stays in a brothel while planning to kill Mussolini and, inevitably, falls in love with one of the whores. As you do - if, that is, you’re in a Wertmüller satire. It will be introduced by Associate Professor Bruce Isaacswho teaches Film Studies at the University of Sydney;  read his ‘Great Movie Scenes’ column in The Conversation I confess I asked Bruce – also another male colleague – partly because I wanted their response to what has been described at times as Wertmüller’s man-hating, knee-jerk feminism. 

All Screwed Up

Next, on Sunday Sunday 18 April, ABC Radio entertainment reporter/ producer and critic specialising in music, film and TV Danielle McGrane introduces All Screwed Up (Tutto a posto e niente in ordine1974). In this, a group of immigrants try to adjust to city life but quickly find that everything is in its place, but nothing is in order.  Rape, unwanted pregnancy, prostitution, poverty, and gender politics  are all subject to Wertmüller’s own anarchic sense of humour:  “Man(kind) in disorder” is a theme that Wertmüller has often said sums up her films. One of the reasons I asked Danielle is because I’m fascinated to know what a younger feminist today thinks of Wertmüller’s provocative brand of feminism.

Swept Away

On  Sunday 25 April, Swept Away (Travolti da un insolito destino nell'azzurro mare d'agosto, 1974) will be introduced by Associate Professor Francesco Borghesi who chairs the Department of Italian Studies, University of Sydney and whose teaching includes “Passions in Italian Culture.” This film gives us a mischievous contest of wills between a beautiful, rich, bourgeois woman and a smelly (according to her) communist sailor (who find themselves shipwrecked on a deserted beach. One of Wertmüller’s better known films in Australia, it has stunning performances from the two leads, Giannini again (in a Cannes Festival Best Actor award winning role) and also the delicious Mariangela Melato. 

Seven Beauties

The last two films of this retrospective on the first two Sundays in May areboth introduced by Associate Professor Giorgia Alù who teaches Italian Studies at the University of Sydney and whose research interests include Italian cultural history and visual studies. On Sunday 2 May, there is Seven Beauties (Pasqualino, Settebellezze, 1975), the film for which Wertmüller was nominated for an Oscar and Giannini was nominated for best actor. This is undoubtedly her most outrageous film. Most audiences find it confronting: when Wertmuller decides to explore not only gender and class but also the sexual politics of a Nazi concentration camp … words fail me…but they didn't fail Wertmüller, that’s for sure!

Ciao Professore

On Sunday Sunday 9 May, Giorgia farewells Wertmüller with her last film, Ciao, Professore! (1992). Critic Roger Ebert called this film about a strict teacher and his (much smarter) young students “a sweet movie.” But Wertmuller doesn't hesitate to expose the Italian political system which fails to address (let alone redress) the imbalance between wealthy northern Italy and poverty-stricken south.

So that’s the season. Leaving me with just a a small space in which to introduce her very first film:

I BASILISCHI ( The Lizards, 1963) 

I’ll start by saying something about some members of her crew which would be any debut director’s dream. Actually, any experienced director’s dream too.

Cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo  shot  Fellini’s   and Juliet of the Spirits, and several films for Antonioni – including, incidentally, Antonioni’s Le Amiche (The Girlfriends, 1955) which screens at the Ritz on Friday 30 April at 6:30 in Cinema Reborn’s festival of restored films over the last weekend in April, see

The editor was Ruggero Mastroianni, Marcello’s  younger brother, a prolific editor with 189 films to his credit including Fellini’s Amarcord,Juliet of the Spirits and Ginger and Fred. 

Music:this was an early film of a little-known composer who the following year wrote the music forA Fistful of DollarsEnnio Morricone! (The Morricone whistle starts here!)

The title.

I believe the title has been poorly translated as The Lizards and lazily compared (sometimes unfavourably) to Fellini’s Vitelloni(1953). It’s true that both films portray a small group of aimless young men who loaf around in a rural Italian town all day, eyeing the young women and achieving nothing. But whereas vitellonitranslates as “calves” and Fellini portrays rather lovable, even frolicsome young bulls, Wertmüller deliberately calls her film basilischi meaning ‘basilisks’ rather than lucertola meaning ‘lizards’: a basilisk is a legendary deadly poisonous serpent.  There is a sharper political edge to how Wertmüller depicts her young men: she shows that the poisonous ineffectual lethargy has seeped into their souls from the societal, cultural and political order from which they cannot escape. The people in her sleepy southern town (Fellini’s film was shot in central Italy) simply don't have what it takes to challenge a society that encourages them to take a pride in “putting up with their lot.” As the commentary – the detached voice of the place – puts it: “their history and surroundings makes them so.”  Wertmüller captures the devastating effects of the economic imbalance between the wealthy north and the poverty-stricken south in ways that Fellini doesn't. 

Critics love pointing out the influences on directors and in Wertmuller’s case, Fellini, neorealism and Pietro Germi’s comedy Italian-style are often cited.  Fellini was undoubtedly an influence. Describing him, Wertmüller once said: “Meeting Fellini is like discovering a wonderful unknown panorama. He opened my mind when he said something that I will never forget: 'If you are not a good storyteller, all the techniques in the world will never save you.'” 

And certainly, her films display a strong love for her locations – prosperous northern cities and also the poor southern villages and countryside – and at time, a neorealist documentary style. You’d be forgiven for thinking I basilischi’s wonderful opening sequence as the camera slowly pans round the  ritual of family lunch followed by a siesta was pure documentary. But elements of stage theatre and comedy are too strong in this and i all her films for her to be considered a neorealist.  As for comedy, this was one of her great strengths – it may also explain why she fell out of favour  as comedy is notoriously subject to time and place.

I’ll end by sharing my favourite sequence in I basilischi, one that I think combines realism, location, sly comedy and something of the tone of puppet theatre. When Francesco (one of the basilisks) is making furtive advances on a young woman, we see her parading through the town streets, her bottom swaying – provocatively, it must be said - this way and that (she’s too bony to be jello on springs - but she’s trying), the pleats in her skirt swinging - alluringly - in and out, and her high heels going click, click click.  For me it’s – I was going to say: “pure Jacques Tati”. Actually, it’s pure Wertmüller.

Enjoy the film! 


Jane Mills. 

This is an extended version of her introduction to the Lina Wertmüller retrospective  at the Ritz, Cinema, NSW on 28 March 2021. 

Sunday 28 March 2021

Streaming - John Baxter rediscovers LIFE STORY (Mick Jackson, UK, 1987)

Jeff Goldblum, Tim Piggott-Smith, Life Story


            Director Mick Jackson had an affinity for the “fish out of water” tale. His LA Story, The Bodyguard andTemple Grandin  all followed individuals who, immersed in an alien environment, managed to preserve their personality.  Life Story (1987)aka The Race for the Double Helix, belongs in the same category.  25-year-old  American biologist James Watson arrives at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory in 1951 and is shunned by the scientific establishment. (His crewcut and gum chewing don’t help.) Within two years, however, he and Francis Crick have discovered the structure of DNA, and are on their way to a Nobel prize. 

            Made for the BBC’s science fact series Horizon (Nova in the US), Life Story  departed from the fifty-minute documentary format to present the story at feature length, and as a drama.  Jeff Goldblum and Tim Piggot-Smith play Watson and Crick. Alan Howard is DNA research pioneer Maurice Wilkins, their joint Nobel Laureate. Juliet Stevenson is Rosalind Franklin, who, while no less entitled to the prize, died before it could be conferred.

Juliet Stenson as Rosalind Franklin, Life Story

            Most films about scientific discovery ignore its drudgery and collaborative nature, preferring to show an individual overcoming entrenched opposition to confound opponents.  While not entirely abandoning this template, William Nicholson’s racy screenplay shows the circumstances surrounding the DNA discovery as a social comedy in the style of LA Story. In that film, London journalist Virginia Madsen finds supposedly laid-back Los Angeles to be beset with complex rules of behaviour, an experience shared by Jim Watson, who discovers that, if there’s an international brotherhood of science, it doesn’t want him as a member.  But he finds a kindred spirit in genial under-achiever Francis Crick, and together they bluff, cheat and guess their way to one of the most significant scientific discoveries of the age.  

            Life Story contrasts the  lifestyle of this unlikely duo, and of Cambridge generally, with that of King’s College, London, Britain’s other centre of DNA research.  As the priapic Watson pursues French au pairs  against a background of honey-coloured cloisters, punting on the Cam and dining at high table, Wilkins and Franklin labour in dingy Victorian offices in a London where it seems always to be raining. Even so, the timid Watkins , archetypally English, feels at home there, unlike the prickly Franklin, who, having spent most of her life in France,  scorns the British for their "vacant stupid faces and childlike complacency," and dismisses her male colleagues as “little boys” playing schoolyard games. 

            The film contrasts the “try it on the dog” methods of Crick and Watson with her painstaking lab work. While she pores over murky X-ray photographs, documenting  minute variations between them, they blunder towards revelation. Building an elaborate model opens them to attack from sceptical associates. Franklin is unsparing in exposing their ignorance.  “Certainly a bad way to go out into the foulness of a [...] November night,” wrote Watson, “was to be told by a woman to refrain from venturing an opinion about a subject for which you were not trained.” On the trip back to London, Franklin allows herself a smile of satisfaction. 

Alan Howard as Maurice Wilkins, Life Story

            Alan Howard, better known as a stage actor, is convincing as the timid Maurice Wilkins, a pioneer sidelined by new and more aggressive rivals.  He recoils in distaste when the brash Watson buttonholes him with a request to join his team, because it might bring “money, fame and glory,” but is equally offended when new arrival Franklin brusquely declines to exchange ideas in a spirit of collegial friendship. Characterising her attitude as “dog in the manger”, he belittles her as “Rosy” or “Our Dark Lady”, and solaces his bruised ego with fencing, a ritualised combat in which nobody can be hurt.  

            Crick and Watson, by contrast, are street fighters, not afraid to get their hands dirty. They pump colleagues for gossip about such competitors as superstar Linus Pauling, and eavesdrop on discussions of the latest research, slipping into the corridor to scribble notes from memory. As the race comes down to the wire and Franklin, now certain of her conclusions, sits down to painstakingly write them up, the boys, true to form, cobble together another model and, in doing so, glimpse the solution.  Soon a succession of technocrats stares in wild surmise at the double helix hovering above their heads like a Calder mobile while George Delerue’s pastiche of a baroque trumpet anthem from Truffaut’s La Nuit Américaine proclaims the primacy of the inspired guess. 

             “I could have seen it,” concedes Franklin when she inspects the model, “but I didn’t” She’s unconcerned with attribution, unlike Crick and Watson, who are on tenterhooks until they’re sure neither she nor Wilkins will diminish their achievement by demanding shared credit.  Watson claimed Goldblum’s acquisitive character was nothing like him, but someone who later worked on his team at New York’s Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory described him in terms that suggest otherwise. Having invited a new and attractive young staff member for a welcoming drink, Watson sent a joint telegram to the entire staff. “She’s eighteen,” it read succinctly “and she is all mine.” 

Jeff Goldblum as Jim Watson 
"...she's eighteen and she is all mine.."

            Life Story disappeared after its first transmission.A VHS version had minimal circulation but the film was never issued as a DVD and became a rarity, occasional copies of the VHS appearing on eBay at $150 and up. Recently, however, an adequate transfer re-surfaced and you can find it if you click here