I’m aware that so far, this blog has focussed quite heavily on modern British Cinema, but let’s face it- British Cinema has always been bloody great (…) and I think it’s time to rewind a little bit- you know what I mean?
Ok, time for a bit of context. It’s the ’60’s. It’s London. As we all know, a revolution was taking place. Everyone was either stoned out of their minds or swinging along in the coolest capital city in the universe… right? Ok, so it’s a beautiful dream, but as always, we can rely on cinema to bring us crashing back down to Earth. Enter Lewis Gilbert, with one of the finest films of the ’60’s era- Alfie.
Alfie (Michael Cane), a blonde eyed, beautiful Londoner has more than his fair share of the ladies and basically has a good time. he’s a happy-go-lucky kind of bloke, breaks a few hearts here and there but it’s alright. WRONG. You see, the problem with being young and carefree in the ’60’s was that you were inevitably bought up by parents who had you in the ’50’s, and therefore put their stifling,’you must get married and have babies and get a job and be a housewife’ selves upon you. And, as we learnt from ’50’s cinema, this makes for a lot of angry young men. But Alfie isn’t angry, he just doesn’t like all this being tied down malarcy, it makes a man all ponsified. That is , until, he has the luxury of being a part-time father taken away from him by Gilda (Julia Foster), our down-trodden female, who wants nothing more than to settle down with him, but has to settle down with a man she doesn’t love, but who provides her with security. What follows is the hilarious but simultaneously heart-breaking tale of a very confused young man who just wants to do what we wants without any hassle.
Now Alfie couldn’t really be played by anyone else (hear that Jude? NOBODY). Michael Cane, our loveable Londoner, all handsome and that, talks to us, makes us go weak in the knees, but is the epitome of oxymoron- utterly, utterly selfish and hateful but at the same time being loveable and hilarious. He serves as an allegory for the conflict between tradition and modernity at the time. Alfie has so many expectations to live up to, but all he really wants is to have a laugh- but he does this as the expense of several women (birds, it, whatever) who in turn are all tied down by the standards and lifestyle that they’re expected to meet, and therefore can never live up to the expectations of Alfie, who in turn can never really be happy for not meeting those expectations. It’s all a bit confusing.
Now it can’t go unmentioned of course that Gilbert himself went on to direct a couple of Bond films after the film, so one can be forgiven for perhaps thinknig that he is a chauvanistic pig, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Alfie’s perception of women is of course, disgusting and pathetic, but it’s important to note the extreme criticism that our character unashamedly brings upon himself with his behaviour. One scene where he slaps a hysterical woman (his friend’s wife) around the face after she suffers a break down due to a dodgy abortion she’s just had, is harrowing, made all the more shameful by his patheic attempt at redemption (slipping a few quid into her purse.) It’s easy to forget Alfie’s sins up to that point.
Because of the nature of Alfie’s character it’s hard, even in retrospect to truly understand what point the film is trying to make. Initially it can be seen as a criticism of outdated morals and values, but then Alfie remains unwanted and unhappy for rejecting them. ‘What’s it all about?’ Alfie asks us at the end. Indeed.