Friday 27 July 2012
(Barney Platt-Mills, 1971) The story told in Private Road is an old one. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl slowly drift apart. End. Such a simple basis for a film could result either in something timeless or something cliche and dull. In the hands of writer-director Barney Platt-Mills, Private Road achieves a unique sort of timelessness; it is naturalistic and yet poetic, satirical yet gentle and funny yet painful too. The boy is Peter (Bruce Robinson), a young writer with a Public School accent who lives with his middle class bohemian mates in Notting Hill, smoking dope and plotting the revolution. He meets the girl, Ann (Susan Penhaligon) at his agents office, and their relationship lures her away from the bourgeois life she shares with her oh-so-square parents in Esher, Surrey to share a flat with Peter in London. Yet they find domesticity amplifies the differences between them, and their relationship starts to suffer. Forty years on, Platt-Mills film looks way ahead of its time. Social realism intent upon the middle classes and young people searching for a new way, it is almost casually shot and performed, but the director has a strong enough visual sense to conjure up a handful of stirringly beautiful shots throughout, from the young couples night walking the streets of a London (which is vividly captured throughout), to their getaway in the wilds of Scotland. It is also unashamedly arty; elliptical, unafraid of letting the camera just sit and observe, it allows its central relationship to develop subtly. Their early days are shy, tentative, filled with long silences while they stare at one another. Later those silences take on a different meaning alongside the suggestion that these people have nothing to say to each other. Robinson and Penhaligon create indelible characters who both ring utterly true - his laid-back, relaxed bearing changing as life and responsibility effect him, and her sweetness revealed as protecting a slightly more calculated nature. Platt-Mills surrounds them with vivid characters; his best friend Stephen, whose wacky good humour evaporates into drug addiction, another friend whose political activism brings him a humourless girlfriend, Ann's pompous, concerned, powerless parents. But it is the effortless trickle of the narrative that most impresses. Small things happen, they mount up, and lives gradually change. While Ann's parents may be slightly too caricatured, the main characters are tenderly satirised too, refusing to follow the life model of their parents but unsure of just what the alternative might be, and perhaps more conventional than they assume. Platt-Mills observational abilities are tremendous too; his camera watches Ann eat a bread roll over dinner without comment or dialogue, watches Peter's face as he drives home at night from Ann's parents house, all of his certainties unravelling. These young people want a new sort of personal freedom, but they're unsure of just what to do with it. The triumph of Private Road is that it locates this struggle within a universal story - boy meets girl - and does so with such charm and resonance.