The Reckoning (1970) Blu Ray & DVD (Indicator)
Going back to Liverpool
Nicol Williamson plays Michael Marler, the son of Irish immigrants living in Liverpool, who now works in London as a marketing executive. Driven and ruthless, he does all of the heavy work for his soft-touch superior John Hazlitt (Paul Rogers). At home, he subjects his upper-class wife Rosemary (Ann Bell) to some pretty rough treatment.
When he receives a message that his father has suffered from a heart attack, he heads back to Liverpool where he is resting at the family home. However, by the time Michael reaches him he has already passed away. While alone with him, he examines his body and discovers that one side of him is covered in bruises.
He gets the local doctor (Godfrey Quigley) to perform a post-mortem examination on him, particularly in the light of the suspicious bruising. The latter dismisses it - saying that it’s a common occurrence for people to fall and injure themselves during cardiac arrest. However, when he talks to his mother she explains that he received the bruising as a result of getting into a bar fight. He decides to perform some investigations of his own and finds out from one of his father’s old friends that he scuffled with a bunch of teddy boys.
The rest of the film follows Marler as he flits between his high-flying London lifestyle and his rough Irish-Liverpudlian roots, during which he falls into a feedback loop of anger, alcoholism and vengefulness.
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Jack Gold’s The Reckoning is a film that fits, at least partially, into the British Kitchen Sink Realism style that was popular during the 1960s. Although it has largely been forgotten about prior to this Indicator release, after watching it now I can actually remember seeing a few clips from it during a high school English lesson (I can’t for the life of me remember the reasons why we were shown them). While there are distinct central story and character threads, there is also a distinctively gritty, slice-of-life vignette-infused edge to it.
This is one film that clearly doesn’t go for a glossily romanticised Hollywood style. The characters, with the possible exception of Ann Bell, look like ordinary people rather than movie stars. Gold’s camera often seems to enhance the warts-and-all grotesqueness of the various bit-part actors who take place in the noisy working men’s club and a later, equally noisy London soiree at Marler’s pad. The camera is pushed right up into their laughing, alcohol-sozzled faces as if lingering in a fascinated fashion over some hitherto-undiscovered wildlife. The period’s depiction of an impoverished suburban Liverpool littered with debris and pothole-inflicted roads lined with rows of soot-encrusted terraced houses is something of an eye-opener. If the past is a foreign country, this one’s borderline third world.
Nicol Williamson (best known nowadays for his role as Merlin in John Boorman’s Excalibur) turns in a superb performance that mixes rage, arrogance, sorrow and regret. However, his work is a bit of a double-edged sword here as, for all his talent, he lacks the charisma of a Michael Caine, an Oliver Reed or a Sean Connery that might have made his anti-hero likeable. While he manages to gain some sympathy as he mourns over the loss of his father, he’s a rude and obnoxious bully to most of the other characters as well as occasionally resorting to some outright objectionable acts. He’s believably human alright - but not all humans are particularly pleasant people to be around, particularly when they’re centre-stage throughout the runtime as Williamson’s Marler is here.
The drama’s on the lumpy side as it mixes a revenge tale, a social drama and an exploration of extramarital affairs (Marler seems to have a thing for middle-aged receptionists with short dark hair, as he picks up two of them during the course of the film). However, the film’s themes are quite interesting as it looks at Britain’s deep divisions by ethnicity and class: upper and upper-middle versus working class, English versus Irish. The former find a patronisingly quaint amusement in the latter and yet, ironically, the brutality found in Marler’s working-class Irish immigrant life is mirrored by the cutthroat nature of the corporate world in which he happens to excel.
A film to admire more than like
The use of editing and music is quite smart at times, in particular during a boxing match early on where the sound effects cut out and Marler starts to visualise his father being beaten up by the thugs. However, as well-made, thought-provoking and well-acted The Reckoning is, it’s more of a film that’s admirable rather than one that’s particularly entertaining or satisfying. Anti-heroes and other objectionable characters are a valid central focus to a film, but narrative and directorial approach ultimately need to either make us root for them or hold them to account in some way. This film seems to flit between one way and the other without fully committing to either of them.
Incidentally, watch out for a small appearance by Peter Sallis, who became best known for his role in the TV series Last of the Summer Wine, and sadly passed away earlier this year.
Runtime: 111 mins
Dir: Jack Gold
Script: John McGrath, based on a novel by Patrick Hall
Starring: Nicol Williamson, Rachel Roberts, Paul Rogers, Zena Walker, Ann Bell, Gwen Nelson, Godfrey Quigley, Peter Sallis
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
The colour palette has quite a muted brown/yellow tinge, but this was clearly in line with British films of this period. During the few occasions when we do get bright colours they are wonderfully vivid. There are one or two grainy shots here (these were perhaps inserts from poor quality sources) but apart from that it’s visually great. The sound quality (mono audio) is solid.
“Pheasants and Predators, Victims and Peasants” is an essay by Michael Pattinson, which looks at the socio-political context and reveals a few bits of trivia. It also examines why the ostensibly similar Get Carter (1971) has remained a popular cult classic whilst The Reckoning has disappeared into obscurity. He quotes from an interview with Jack Gold, who mentioned that Nicol Williamson tended to deliberately work against audience identification. He forges an undeniably passionate critical defence of the film (even if I don’t necessarily share his viewpoint), including responding to some contemporary negative reviews.
“Nicol Williamson and John McGrath” is an excerpt from a 1972 essay Kenneth Tynan wrote for the New Yorker. He discusses Nicol Williamson with playwright and screenwriter John McGrath. It starts off with McGrath recalling the time when the actor attempted to commit suicide by jumping in the river Tay.
“Jack Gold on The Reckoning” is a collection of quotes from various interviews. The most interesting part is when he discusses working with Nicol Williamson, as he notes that he walked off stage twice not because of temperament, but because he is a perfectionist.
The final section of the booklet looks at the film’s various critical responses (both positive and negative).
On the disc itself are the following:
Culture Clash: Matthew Sweet on “The Reckoning”
The journalist takes an entertaining look at how the film fitted into this period of British history, when the working class were faced with new opportunities their parents didn’t have, and became estranged from them. He also takes a view of the Kitchen Sink/Angry Young Man style of film that it came at the tail end of. He talks about actors Nicol Williamson (who was known for threatening his fellow cast members with violence on occasion) and Rachel Roberts (whose marriage to Rex Harrison was collapsing at this time).
Memories of Marler: Tom Kempinski on “The Reckoning”
Kempinski is the actor who plays the character who accompanies Marler to the party later on in the film. He reminisces on his experiences with Williamson in this brief (3-minute) featurette. The latter didn’t know Kempinski and made an off-the-cuff remark during a scene featuring a number of expensive cars in the background, saying that they are things “he will never own”.
On Your Marks: Joe Marks on “The Reckoning”
Second assistant director Marks talks about working with Williamson and some others involved in the making of the film.
A theatrical trailer and image gallery round out the extras. There’s no audio commentary, something that is unusual for an Indicator release.
Fans of British social realist dramas from the period will probably disagree with me, but as far as I am concerned The Reckoning is more of an interesting curiosity than a great film. There are relatively few extras, although the ones that are present aren’t bad.