The Boy Friend-1971
Director Ken Russell
Starring Twiggy, Christopher Gable
Scott’s Review #1,407
Reviewed October 27, 2023
With each Ken Russell film, I see the expectation is for something wacky and I sit back for a schizophrenic roller coaster ride.
His finest efforts like Women in Love (1970), The Devils (1971), and Tommy (1975) offer bombast and weirdness in their way.
The British director decided to take on The Boy Friend (1971), a reworking of a 1953 traditional musical of the same name by Sandy Wilson, and turn it upside down on its ass. Those expecting a conventional affair with cheery sing-along numbers in perfect symmetry will be disappointed.
The messy project has its ups and downs and meanders off course on more than one occasion. With jagged storytelling and dragging sequences, it makes up ground with the sizzling visuals and costumes and offers the audience a glimpse of theatre drama and shenanigans both onstage and offstage.
On its own merits and considering the director is Russell it gets a marginal thumbs up but is nowhere near as fantastic as his other works.
Causing a bit of confusion, the plot is divided into three levels. Level one tells the main story, where, in the south of England in the 1920s, a struggling theatrical troupe is performing a musical about romantic intrigues at a finishing school for young women in the south of France.
The cast awkwardly strives to impress a visiting famous movie director with hopes of fame and fortune. They giggle, improvise, and scheme to get noticed at the risk of upstaging the other cast members.
Next, there is the musical itself. Four of the girls at the school are very forward and acquire boyfriends, but Polly, played by 1960s supermodel Twiggy, is shy and has nobody to take her to the carnival masked ball that night. Tony (Christopher Gable), a messenger boy from a dress shop, brings her a costume, and they fall in love.
Finally, there are extensive fantasy sequences in the film, during which the characters’ dreams and hopes are enacted in music and dance sans dialogue.
Glenda Jackson, who won an Oscar for Russell’s Women in Love returns in an uncredited appearance as the theatre star who Polly must fill in for when she breaks her leg.
The crux of the film is the romance between Polly and Tony. While there is some chemistry between the duo they never completely take off as the centerpiece either.
The cleverness is in the reveal of the twist within the stage production cementing the pair’s connection, as characters in the play.
Nonetheless, there are too many other things going on to care about the lovebirds for very long.
The musical numbers got my attention, especially towards the end of the film. My personal favorite ‘It’s Nicer in Nice’ kickstarts the action with high-caliber energy and shout-outs to other geographical cities in comparison to Nice, France. It’s a fun regional experience with great culture and an upbeat rhythm.
The chirpy ‘It’s Never Too Late to Fall in Love’ follows soon after offering a gleeful ending.
The fantasy sequences waste story potential and offer no plot direction but are fun to watch anyway. Dripping with colors and razzle-dazzle the chaotic events are dreamlike and foot-stomping.
Twiggy, with little to no prior film experience, is quite impressive in the lead role. Her voice is strong and her acting skills are more than adequate. What might have been a disaster is not thanks to her talents.
Even though other Ken Russell films are tighter and linear The Boy Friend (1971) is worth the watch, especially for his diehard fans.
Oscar Nominations: Best Music, Adaptation, and Original Song Score