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
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.
The “new wave” of French film makers have had such a good press that I think it’s worth quoting from a pamphlet by a French socialist this comment on them:
“A press campaign verging on a swindle has launched the myth of the New Wave. Starting in Cahiers du Cinema and Arts and eventually reaching Paris-Match and L’Humanite, a kind of frenzy has overcome the critics. All sense of values abolished, they have flocked to discover a school of shattering genius. There it was, the cinema of “The Renewal”. A thousand times repeated but never verified, this aberration has become a truth sent from heaven.
“Few people kept a cool head. One saw excellent critics turning into parrots and renouncing their sovereign right to judge for themselves. Perhaps they have done this for fear of being thought out of touch with the new generation. Perhaps also from weariness. Often confused on the political plane, bitter without energy, they have followed the fashion. Finally, from habit. The back room publicity boys use youth as a magic word. Whether selling a novel or a frig., they condition the crowds to buy young.
“Out of this holy and enthusiastic union of the French critics a legend has grown; the young cinema overturns aesthetics. The art of tomorrow rises from the ruins. It’s very essence implies genius, it is quality. Elle, a magazine familiar with detergents, has coined a vivid formula—“The young lions of the French cinema make you the most envied spectator in the world.”
“Both as a press campaign and as a manifestation of collective insanity, the campaign is unique in the history of the cinema. Yet it can be explained clearly within the climate of Gaullist monarchy and its deep lethargy. If it had not been for the eclipse of the Left, the collapse of critical thought, the resignation of the rebel spirit, the myth of a providential young school would not have gained currency in this year zero of the French cinema.”