Black-and-white crime dramas from the British New Wave movement – there’s something so intoxicating about these films that they almost bear a transcendent quality that puts them above being merely ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Almost is to be emphasised, however, as The Angry Silence is a powerful film for sure, but a film that sometimes struggles to channel its power in the right directions.
The Angry Silence, based on true events, is the story of how Tom Curtis (portrayed by a mellow, post-Brighton Rock Richard Attenborough) becomes unexpectedly caught in a web of deceit, violence and treachery as he remains one of the few employees of a factory who refuses to go on an unofficial strike. What Tom himself describes as a ”storm in a teacup” over ensuring stronger safety measures in the factory where he works spirals out of control into a taught, twisted drama of morale, survival, and friendship.
Guy Green’s movie is bookended with tension, but it’s a film that builds and builds on that tension until everything spills over. Unfortunately, when it does spill over, things become somewhat melodramatic. Throughout the film, Tom’s victimisation from his co-workers becomes grimmer and grimmer, but its climax, involving Tom losing an eye, feels jarring and out of place in the film’s guttural realism and upsets the otherwise perfect delivery of the film.
In almost every other aspect though, The Angry Silence is an essential watch. Attenborough gives a metamorphic performance that snuggles neatly with the film’s rising unease. He opens the film as an easy-going, unassuming individual, and closes as a tortured human being, broken beyond repair. Director Green paints a sublime picture of the world Tom must endure, piecing together a sumptuous rogues’ gallery of working-class individuals who conspire against Tom for a whole variety of reasons, ranging from the personal to the corporate.
That rogue’s gallery includes New Wave stalwart Michael Craig, who also lends a hand in providing the film’s script. He, Richard Gregson, and The Stepford Wives director Bryan Forbes create a masterclass in pace and performance. Even with that clunky climax, The Angry Silence is a sinewy glimpse into the darkest recesses of working-class life in Britain, and its straight-faced script, unfolding from calmness to the volatile, does the set-up justice.
The Angry Silence is an often riveting slice of semi-kitchen sink realism, but it becomes hampered by its own crumbling into melodrama. The melodrama itself may be brief, but its positioning as the finale makes that melodrama all the more noticeable. So much of The Angry Silence works, without a doubt, but the film also reminds us that this movement in British cinema wasn’t as transcendent as history might like us to believe.
THE ANGRY SILENCE / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: GUY GREEN / SCREENPLAY: RICHARD GREGSON, MICHAEL CRAIG, BRYAN FORBERS / STARRING: RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH, PIER ANGELI, MICHAEL CRAIG, BERNARD LEE / RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 4TH