wilfred fienburgh’s story of a Labour M.P. No Love for Johnnie is a bad novel. The film that the Rank Organisation have made from the book is even worse. Ralph Thomas has directed No Love for Johhnie with absolutely no imagination or feeling (not that one would expect these qualities in the director of the Doctor in the House series). The film is so bad that I do not think anybody will be affected by it. Yet I think it is worth writing about because it is so revealing of British attitudes to politics.

The film sticks very closely to the book. All the script writers have done is to flatten the whole thing out. The story centres completely around John Byrne M.P. Byrne is the son of a solid northern Labour family. Since he drifted into politics his one ambition has been to get ahead. First a Labour councillor, then an officer in the army during the war, then a Labour M.P. When the novel opens he is desperately hoping for a seat in the new Labour Government that is just being formed. I got the impression from the reviews of the book that John Byrne had originally been an idealist and was only slowly corrupted by political life. In fact, nowhere in the book or film is there one spark of idealism in Byrne. More revealing is the fact that Wilfred Fienburgh seems to have had no conception of what idealism means. All the politicians are corrupt; the Labour Prime Minister is a straightforward machine politician; the other M.P.s follow him blindly—all, that is, except a small group of dissident left wingers. These are the real villians of the piece. Their opposition to the Government is entirely motivated by frustration and ambition. This is how one of their number, an intellectualhating trade unionist describes them in the film: “Conscience, there is’nt the makings of a conscience among the lot of us. Byrne’s here because he expected a job and didn’t get one. Maxwell can’t help fiddling and messing about. Jeffrey’s licked boots for the past four years and its got you nowhere so you’re sore. And Renfrew, I’ve got a fair idea what you’re up to—and it’s no good whatever it is”. The point is made even clearer in the film by the casting of that well known villian of screen and television, Donald Pleasence, as Renfrew, the leader of the group.

The main feature of the book and film is Byrne’s revulsion against politics and all that he associates with it. For him it means cynicism and ugliness. He escapes by way of a girl, Pauline, who is described in the book in this way: “She sat in the corner, feet together, neat skirt demure around her knees, a white collar at her throat, dark hair gently and neatly waved. She was a cool contrast to the lusty girls who obtruded their sex from every angle . . .” The film makes the same point by the casting of Mary Peach, a tall cool blonde actress, to play the part. Throughout the book and the film the same contrast is made, the ugliness of the Labour Party office and beauty of the walks with Pauline through the park, Pauline’s sex appeal and youth against Byrne’s wife (a Communist Party member) who is ugly and can’t make it in bed.

It’s the usual British opposition of sex and politics. You’re either a responsible politician with an unhappy personal life or irresponsible about politics and personally happy. But Fienburgh gives the usual opposition an extra twist. Johnnie’s personal escape is into a Vogue-like dream world. Pauline significantly is a model. This is Fienburgh’s description of Pauline’s mother: “An attractive women rose gracefully from a low chair set beside the fire heaped and blazing with coals. It was an older Pauline, the same clear, open eyes, the same slim legs and firm bust, but more mature, a beautiful comfortable woman”. The mother is not in the film but Pauline’s father has the same comfortable House and Garden feeling about him.

From the House of Commons to Vogue—I think this sums up No Love for Johnnie exactly. Don’t go and see No Love for Johnnie but remember—if you’re wife can’t make it in bed she’s probably a Communist spy.