Breaking the fourth wall has become a common conceit these days, especially in television, so you might be surprised to learn it was the key artistic element of this otherwise straightforward British coming of age drama.
Our teenage guide Jamie (Barry Evans), a delivery boy, spends most of his time lusting after any women he meets. Like a junior version of 10 (1979) women are rated according to their physical attributes. Most, of course, are well out of his league, especially as he lacks for what counts as the smooth patter which his cocky pal Spike (Christopher Timothy) has in abundance.
Essentially a series of episodes with the opposite sex as Jamie tries to lose his virginity. But mostly, it’s just Jamie yakking on about how he’s not lost his virginity and what’s up with all those women that they can’t see what a great catch he is. He’s so determined to have sex he will even go out with the dumbest of dumb blondes, Linda (Adrienne Posta).
Naturally, since reality is too cruel, he succumbs to fantasy with a number of scenarios that seem, inexplicably, torn from silent movies, and nothing approaching the imagination of Hieronymus Merkin. For no particular reason, he strikes lucky with the adventurous Mary (Judy Geeson), whose boyfriends usually run to sports cars, but that liaison is nearly interrupted by a wet dog and Jamie’s inexperience.
Apart from the lusting, there’s little else going on, a couple of women in a fish-and-chip shop complain they are fed up with chicken and beef, his younger brother shows more spark, and his home life is pitifully dull. You can’t really blame the movie for lacking the rebelliousness that was potent at the time, there’s no political awareness and no sign Jamie is going to grow up into one of the Angry Young Man so familiar at the beginning of the decade. It’s a quaint version of American Pie.(1999).
But it’s just boring. While Barry Evans (Alfred the Great, 1969) is personable enough he doesn’t have enough in the wit department to keep you hooked for the duration, most of the humor teetering on the side of inuendo..
Unable to recognise the inherent weakness of the script, and assuming that breaking artistic boundaries with the fourth wall is enough, director Clive Donner (Alfred the Great) spends most of his time trying to visually brush everything up, with little success.
That this was a big British hit at the time might have been more to do with the soundtrack – performed and written by Steve Winwood and Traffic – and the fleeting sight of Judy Geeson (Two into Three Won’t Go, 1969) in the buff. The British censor didn’t take too kindly to the actress revealing all, so in fact audiences were treated to very little, but for teenagers at the time very little was more than usually came their way unless willing to sit through a turgid arthouse picture.
About the only thing to commend it is Geeson’s class, she stands head and shoulders above everyone else in terms of screen charisma, and that there’s a roll call of rising British stars. As well as Christopher Timothy who would achieve fame on television in the original All Creatures Great and Small, the supporting cast includes Vanessa Howard (Corruption, 1968), Angela Scoular (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969), Diane Keen (The Sex Thief, 1973) and Adrienne Posta (Some Girls Do, 1969) and, to show them all how to do it, Denholm Elliot (Maroc 7, 1967) briefly pops up.
Clive Donner (Alfred the Great) directs. Hunter Davies, making his screen debut, wrote the screenplay based on his bestseller. Generally, any film that scores two stars does so out of incompetence. This is well-enough made but never seems to shift into gear.
4 thoughts on “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1968) **”
I don’t necessarily disagree with your analysis here but I think the film is more interesting as a social document than you imply. Also it’s perhaps boring for us now but its success in 1968 at the box office arguably came about because it worked as a ‘youth picture’. It was seen as a late ‘Swinging Sixties’ film but I think its setting in Stevenage is interesting. Clive Donner had a track record with Some People (1962) as a youth picture and I’m not sure if Hunter Davies’ book on the Beatles was out when the film was released, but it was probably news. I suspect he hoped that Mulberry Bush would gain him the prestige that his wife Margaret Forster achieved when her novel became the film Georgy Girl in 1966.
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It certainly reflected the anxieties of youth and the idea of missing out when everyone else was having sex. It would have been bold to set it in Stevenage rather than London. He was Scottish which I didn;t know. His Beatles bio came out in 1968. I always had the impression he was more famous than his wife but she was more critically acclaimed.
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I’d agree with Roy that this is interesting as a social document, even if its quite old hat these days. In fact, it was probably old hat by 1970, but in these days, ancillary markets didn’t exist and being of the moment was enough to draw a crowd…
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The album drew on one ancillary market. It would have been a lot better without the commentary track.
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