Over the weekend, I watched two films. In terms of quality they were at opposite ends of the scale. One was London Fields, starring Amber Heard, which barely justifies even its 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes; it's truly awful, a strong contender for Worst Film I've Ever Seen. Thankfully, the other was Unman, Wittering, and Zigo, directed by John Mackenzie, who was later responsible for the brilliant The Long Good Friday. Unman... made a great impression on me when I first watched it many years ago and it stands the test of time.
Unman... was based on a radio play by Giles Cooper and is set in a public school. The pupils make even the rebels in Lindsay Anderson's If... seem tame. (Incidentally, we were shown If... when we were at school ourselves; pretty enlightened teaching, it seems to me.) Unman... stars David Hemmings, then at the height of his fame, as a John Ebony, a young teacher who has just arrived at Chantry School in mid-term.
Ebony is replacing a Mr. Pelham, who died in mysterious circumstances. He's young and keen, and accompanied by his wife (Carolyn Seymour). The head teacher, played by the splendid Douglas Wilmer, is just as remote and useless as the head in If... When Ebony comes into conflict with the boys in his form, Upper V B, they claim that they murdered Pelham and that he'll suffer the same fate unless he toes the line...
This is a chilling and compelling film which deserves to be much better known. Some people suggest that the title is off-putting, but I think it's memorable and resonant. I do, however, tend to agree with those critics who suggest that the ending isn't entirely satisfactory. Even so the story as a whole is first-rate. If.... is a much more renowned movie, and I enjoyed watching it again recently; even so, I found Unman... somehow more shocking, and also rather more sophisticated in its portrayal of rebellious young men. Watching it was a great way to get over the dismal experience of yawning my way through London Fields.
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