Originally published in 1938, Graham Greene’s novel Brighton Rock was a seminal and highly influential crime thriller, having been adapted into a play (1944), a film (1947), a radio drama (1997) and even a (short lived) 2004 musical produced for the London stage. Taking its name from the hard confectionery that was traditionally sold at tacky seaside resorts across England, the 2010 film adaptation of Brighton Rock keeps the characters and basic morality of Greene’s novel intact, but updates the setting from pre-World War Two to the early-1960s, using the simmering conflict between the traditional rockers and the emerging mods as the background canvas upon which the drama paints itself.
Pinkie Brown (Sam Riley) is a young, vicious small time hood trying to make big in the English seaside town of Brighton. When his boss and father figure Kite is stabbed to death by rival hood Fred, Pinkie seizes the moment as his opportunity to not only take over the running of his gang, but to assert authority over the established – and much more powerful – rival crime boss Colleoni (Andy Serkis). Things take a complicated turn when a lonely waitress named Rosie (Andrea Riseborough) unwittingly becomes a potential witness to the payback killing of Fred, forcing Pinkie to romance the naive young girl in order to make sure she keeps her silence.
Updating the time period of Brighton Rock was a brave but inventive move for writer/director Rowan Joffe, who injects the film with the interesting juxtaposition of the old school gangsters being swallowed by the tide of an incoming, rebellious generation and a new breed of younger, more unbalanced and violent criminal. The setting also helps give the film a more downbeat atmosphere, as by the 1960s the seaside resorts across England had become a lot grimier and decrepit than it was three decades earlier, making the ambiance more reflective of the characters and situations. Sam Riley brings a great sneer and sense of bubbling psychopathy as Pinkie Brown, and is surrounded by a uniformly excellent cast (including veterans John Hurt and Helen Mirren, who plays Rosie’s boss Ida, a hardened and booze-weathered woman who is clearly used to hanging around the world of criminals and lowlifes).
While Brighton Rock may not rank amongst the classic British movies in its genre, it more than holds its place as a gritty, atmospheric and stylish crime thriller. Madman have done a great job with their two-disc DVD release, giving us an audio commentary track with Joffe and editor Joe Walker and disc of extra material including deleted scenes, cast & crew interviews, ‘Anatomy of a Scene’ (which breaks down the key sequence where Pinkie makes a vinyl record of his voice for Rose in a recording booth), making of featurette and ‘Mod or Rocker?’ (unfortunately not a documentary but merely a survey of the cast and crew, who reveal which side their allegiance would have been on had they lived through the era).