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WEST 11 (1963)

Written By:

Martin Unsworth
west 11

Long before it became the trendy, gentrified place it is today, London’s Notting Hill was a seedy, rundown area filled with low rent rooms and dodgy characters. It’s this vision of the borough that Michael Winner’s West 11 brings to the screen.

Joe (Alfred Lynch) is a depressed lad, aimlessly going through life with no drive or purpose. Quitting his latest job (before he’s sacked) and thrown out of his dingy room by his overbearing landlady, he takes up an offer from seedy moocher Dyce (Eric Portman) to make some money. He knows it’s not right, but what else is there?

West 11 is a gloriously grimy adaptation of Laura del Rivo’s The Furnished Room and proves that Winner didn’t always shoot provocatively offensive films (although we love those too). The hero (or perhaps anti-hero since there’s no way he’s someone to look up to) Joe is a sympathetic character, but whose disregard for others – particularly women – gives the viewer a dilemma of whether they should root for him or not.

The West London setting is suitably dour. At one point, Joe passes by a rally being held by the ‘Britain’s First’ organisation (the speaker being Brian Wilde, later to be the kindly warden in Porridge). It’s a prescient scene as, like the dives people are expected to pay for these days, the situation has come full circle with similar demonstrations happening today.

The movie labours on Joe’s predicament much more than the criminal aspect he gets into, and rightfully so. By doing this, Winner emphasises the complete worthlessness the character thinks of his position in life, both emotionally and spiritually. He can’t even summon a reaction when informed of his mother’s death. Like many of later Winner’s films, West 11 is prime for reassessment.

There’s a host of great character actors filling out the cast; Diana Dors being the most prominent, but also seen are Kathleen Harrison (best known for the Alistair Sim version of A Christmas Carol), Patrick Wymark, Larry Dann, and a young David Hemmings, who all add to the flavour of the drama.  StudioCanal’s Blu-ray release looks stunning, highlighting the brilliant noir-ish black and white photography. There might only be one extra feature (apart from the trailer, do we even count those these days?), but it’s a good one as broadcaster and writer Matthew Sweet talks us through the film and its history.

If you thought Michael Winner only made exploitation trash, then give West 11 a shot. For those of us who know Winner’s worth, this is an essential purchase.

West 11 is available on Blu-ray from July 5th.

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