sun 23/07/2017

DVD/Blu-ray: Letter to Brezhnev | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-ray: Letter to Brezhnev

DVD/Blu-ray: Letter to Brezhnev

Eighties low-budget classic set in Liverpool given a welcome re-release

From Russia with love: Peter Firth and Alexandra Pigg in Letter to Brezhnev

Letter to Brezhnev, released in 1985, was a delightful curio with sharp edges. A trans-cultural riff on Romeo and Juliet, it told of the sudden romance that erupts between a Kirkby girl and a visiting Soviet sailor one night on the tiles in Liverpool. I have a strong memory from 32 years ago of feeling overwhelmed by the film’s iconic image, of the lovers' last kiss through a chain-link fence before his ship sails back to the USSR.

Peter Firth, who played Peter the sailor, was the closest the cast came to a star. As is explained in the abundant supply of extras of this re-release, like many British films of the era Letter to Brezhnev was made on a shoestring – and production was even held up mid-shoot while more money was sought. It shows in the cheap and cheerful aesthetic that falls halfway between Ken Loach and Brookside – the Scouse soap of which both lead actress Alexandra Pigg, writer Frank Clarke and director Chris Bernard were all graduates. But Clarke’s script remains a riot. “Knit yourself an Iron Curtain,” says Elaine to her red-fearing mother. ”I’m thick,” says Margi Clarke as Elaine’s gloriously gobby sidekick Teresa, “but one thing I’ve got is a degree in men.” And Alfred Molina as a burly sailor who is fluent in horizontal communication is still a treat; no wonder of all the cast he went on great things.

Letter to BrezhnevIt may now seem a sepia-tinted history piece - Letter to Putin doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, and Russia is no longer an unknowable otherwhere. But one thing that has not dated is the mirror the film holds up to working-class Liverpool. The film was really an anti-Thatcherite howl of rage, leavened by the vibrant and indomitable spirit of two young women.

These violent delights have violent ends, says the Friar in Shakespeare’s play. There’s nothing so final in Letter to Brezhnev, in which Elaine defies the might of the British state to fly off on the wings of love. By the time the film came out, Gorbachev and glasnost had arrived. Who knows what happened to her? The extras are a bonanza for anyone who’s been missing Margi Clarke, who tells her life story for half an hour and provides one of the two audio commentaries.

@JasperRees

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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