Friday, 7 December 2012

A Place To Go

‘A Place To Go’ is an opportunistic little film from 1963 which details a period of upheaval and change amongst the working classes of Bethnal Green. Primarily a character study with a crime drama and an unlikely love story attached, the action centres around the Flint family, all living cheek by jowl in a neat but past its sell by date terraced Council house.

Almost everybody in the family craves some sort of freedom: Dad wants to stop working at the docks as ‘the unions are as bad as the bosses’; son Ricky wants to see the world; son in law Jim wants to be his own Boss; pregnant daughter Betsy wants ‘a place of their own’. The only content person is Mum, happy with her home and husband and family responsibilities. Ironically, she will gradually lose all of these and become truly 'free', and she hates it.   

Ricky (pop star Mike ‘Come Outside’ Sarne, who would later become a film director and shag Brigitte Bardot) needs money to get away, so has got involved with a local ‘firm’ and is working as an inside man in a cigarette factory they are planning to rob. When he meets unconventional ‘noisy bird’ Cat (Rita Tushingham) he begins to think about settling down, but Cat wants her own brand of freedom, which doesn’t involve being tied to one man just yet.  Their courting is done at the dog track, the pub, the cinema, the laundry and in the cellar of a bombed out house. 

Meanwhile, Dad (Bernard Lee) chucks his job in as a docker to become, of all things, a strong man entertaining cinema queues by wrapping himself in chains and padlocks and then escaping from them using brute force. Mum (Doris Hare) isn’t impressed at all, but she loves him and helps pass the hat around. Dad isn’t getting any younger, though, and the ongoing feats of strength are placing a great strain upon his health.

Eventually, Dad drops dead of a cerebral haemorrhage and a few weeks later the family receive an eviction / relocation notice: they are to be rehoused in new flats and their family home o the last thirty years is to be demolished. The raid on the factory goes ahead, but Ricky can’t bring himself to knock out a patrolling copper, so the rest of the gang set fire to his brother in law Jim’s lorry in revenge and Ricky is badly burned when the petrol tank blows as he is trying to put out the blaze.


While Ricky is in hospital, the rest of the family are rehoused in a shiny new block of flats. After thirty years in the same house, Mum finds it a wrench, especially now Dad isn't about anymore. The moment they pull away, a gang of neighbourhood kids put out their windows with great gusto - all the houses are going to be knocked down, anyway, whole lifetimes of memories obliterated by progress.    

Ricky's homecoming is rather odd, going back to a place he's never been before. Mum doesn't like it. Jim has chucked in his ideal of being self-employed and has a mundane job at a big factory. Betsy and he have used the insurance money from the burned out lorry to buy a house in the suburbs, the 'place of their own' Betsy has always wanted. Betsy doesn't like it: 'The house is nice, really. We've got a bit of garden, our own telly, trees all down the street and that. Just a bit lonely that's all." 

And what does she all day? "I just sit and look at telly. Funny how you think you know the people on it. I even write to them sometimes." In every dream home a heartache.    

While Ricky has been in hospital Cat's been going out with the bloke in the gang who started the fire, so an enraged Ricky tracks his rival down and a punch up ensues in which a knife is pulled. Ricky and his rival are arrested, but Ricky pleads extenuating circumstances: the bloke had it coming for making a move on his fiancée, a gross overstatement of the actual relationship.

Cat is called as a witness to confirm that she and Ricky are engaged, which she does. Ricky is bound over for a year on the basis that he and Cat marry, settle down and conform. To celebrate their actual engagement, they head to their bomb site idyll to seal the deal, only to find its being demolished: time to find a new place to go.

Dreams of freedom forgotten, they head towards the new flats, hand in hand, eager to start adult life in earnest. 

Interesting stuff although, in the end analysis, mildly depressing. Only dear old Mum achieves freedom, sat on her own in a flat with a view of St Pauls, as distant a destination to her as the Taj Mahal. As for the others? Well, you can never go home again, the cliche runs, not because home is different, but because you are. Oh, and because the Council knocked it down. 

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