Brighton Rock


Written by Chris Price
31 Monday 31st January 2011


I hate books. ‘Books are bullshit’. That’s what I say to people that read (Ed - ahem, this is a magazine Chris, what people read an' all). If the term bibliophobe exists, I’m one of them. When presented with 300-plus bound pages of 8-point serifed text, I don’t see the opportunity to explore the rich detail of foreign lands, I see one massive fucking chore. So it’s got to say something pretty positive for a film that it’s actually made me want to read the book that inspired it.

The blame should probably be levelled at my GCSE English teacher, who chose to subject his class to the ‘rural charms’ (like incest in hay bails and wellingtons covered in fox entrails) of Laurie Lee’s Cider With Rosie.

Graham Greene falls into this category of traditional descriptive school literature. Rowan Joffe’s debut feature Brighton Rock is an adaption of Greene’s 1939 novel, charting the rise and fall of small time hood Pinky Brown (probably not as amusing back then). Joffe (director of Channel 4’s Secret Life for Channel 4 and writer of The American, Last Resort and 28 Weeks Later) seeks to paint the whole thing in a 60s seaside charabanc blue.

But it’s certainly got individuality. Joffe’s directorial style is chock-full of the same symbolism and religious fervour of the novel, regularly skirting above subtlety. Pinky (Sam Riley, previously Ian Curtis in Control) is a delinquent Brightonian mod, member of a stagnating gangster outfit. After witnessing the accidental murder of his patriarchal boss, Pinky seeks to wrestle control of the firm from the generational successor – and save himself from the noose by entrapping the one witness who can finger him in a murder at the same time. What initially starts twee and impish rapidly turns sinister. As the bodies start to pile up, Pinky takes more and more drastic measures to ensure his survival.

Greene’s original was written amidst his personal Roman Catholic conversion, from sceptical to devout – and the film is balls deep in religious symbolism (the ascent to rival gangster Colleoni’sporcelain hotel suite versus Pinky’s dingy yellowed basement flat being a regular visited metaphor).

Sam Riley plays almost the entire film fixated with the sneer of someone who’s just smelt some bad meat, but his portrayal of a ‘poisoned’, misogynistic flex-wielding Catholic is generally excellent. Highly theatrical in delivery, but effective and certainly unique, concurrently displaying commanding dependability and imminent threat. But the film belongs to Andrea Riseboroughas Rose. Delicate and sweet, with flashes of strength – her desire to be wanted bowing to an ultimate devotion is believable and touching, and her desire for him to love her back provides some of the films most emotional moments.

Brighton Rock is a thoroughly bleak depressing quest for identity. Set in a time where old rules were changing and there was both everything and nothing to live for - more than a nod to Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange. Joffe’s script is uneven, but the panache and flair behind the lens creates a displaced almost Lynchian twilight world (including a slow zoom into an electric heater coupled with an ascending electrostatic hum that could’ve been lifted straight from Eraserhead). The result is a nightmarish depiction of a classic British picture postcard, and a story about good and bad, and all the points in between – and ultimately the role of religion amidst identity crisis.

I can just see chapters of text reduced to a single askance look on film – so I’ll give the book a go. Wish me luck. 

Brighton Rock is on general release 4 Feb 2011

Don't Panic attempt to credit photographers and content owners wherever possible, however due to the sheer size and nature of the internet this is sometimes impractical or impossible. If you see any images on our site which you believe belong to yourself or another and we have incorrectly used it please let us know at and we will respond asap.