Bruce Pritchard (Malcolm McDowell) is a likeable rogue. He plays soccer for his local team, chats up girls and has aspirations to be a great writer. But when he returns home after his brother’s wedding everything changes. He collapses in the lift and wakes up the next day in hospital. His illness is never given a name but now he’s paralysed from the waist down. Bruce will never walk again.
Bruce grows sullen and bitter. He moves in to a care home for the disabled and refuses to communicate with any of his neighbours, until he sees Jill (Nanette Newman). Jill is pretty and always smiling. Like Bruce, she’s confined to a wheelchair but that doesn’t stop her from making the most of life. When she isn’t playing ping pong she has her nose in a book.
Bruce finds out that Jill is leaving the home soon. She’s engaged to be married. When he tries to talk with her it’s awkward and he comes across rude and boorish. When she leaves he doesn’t think he’ll see her again. But when Jill returns to her parents and her fiancée, it doesn’t go well. She knows her fiancée doesn’t love her anymore, that he’s scared of her disability. Before long, she’s back at the home. When Bruce and Jill are reunited, he’s softer and more charming. He makes her laugh. Soon, Bruce and Jill are inseparable. But when they fall in love, and decide to leave the home and take the world on together, they don’t realise the tragedy that is in store for them.
The Raging Moon was written for the screen and directed by Bryan Forbes, one of British cinema’s leading lights and husband to Nanette Newman. Among his better known films are Séance on a Wet Afternoon and The Stepford Wives.
It’s an interesting movie and a lot more enjoyable than the synopsis (or its rather bland and worthy trailer) would have you believe. We would even go so far as to say it’s one of Malcolm McDowell’s best roles. Playing Bruce must have been like walking a tightrope – he starts the journey laddish and cocky, decelerates into brooding and hostile, switches into charming, accelerates into funny and then eventually cruises into caring and vulnerable. For those of us who mostly know McDowell from movies like A Clockwork Orange, Cat People and some of the terrible straight-to-video sci-fis and horrors he’s made over the past couple of decades, the nuances in his performance are something of a revelation.
Nanette Newman, a fantastic actress in her own right, gives great support but seems a little miscast. This wouldn’t be the only time Bryan Forbes will shoehorn his wife into something she wasn’t quite right for; check out her appearance in Forbes’ version of The Stepford Wives.
Among the supporting actors, look out for Bernard Lee (the original ‘M’) in a role that would make James Bond’s boss shudder with embarrassment, Catweazle and Worzel Gummidge’s Geoffrey Bayldon and Blakes 7’s Paul Darrow in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him part as a hospital doctor.
If you ever find yourself in the mood for a gentle, rather sad, but essentially heartwarming little love story about the kinds of characters we rarely ever see on screen, you’d be wise to give this little gem of British filmmaking a spin.
THE RAGING MOON / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: BRYAN FORBES / STARRING: MALCOLM MCDOWELL, NANETTE NEWMAN, GEORGIA BROWN, BERNARD LEE / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 23RD