The Bofors Gun (1968)

Directed by Jack Gold and based on a stage play by  John McGrath (“Events While Guarding the Bofors Gun”), this film belongs to an era when writers with a polit­ical conscience domin­ated British drama on the stage, on tele­vi­sion, and even some­times on film. Featuring a cast of ster­ling British actors; including David Warner, Nicol Willi­amson, Ian Holm, John Thaw and Peter Vaughn; it’s a small scale story which tackles large themes; a film that ranks along­side other 60’s clas­sics like Sidney Lumet’s The Hill (1965) but which has fallen into undeserved obscurity with no DVD release to date (see foot­note).

It’s Germany in 1952 during the Cold War and British soldiers have been given the job of guarding a largely obsolete Bofors Gun. Lance Bombardier Terry Evans (David Warner) hates being an enlisted soldier and hates being posted abroad, so when a chance comes to go home and train as an officer, he is desperate to take it. But first, he has to get through one night of guard duty. Unluckily for him, O’Rourke (Nicol Willi­amson) is one of the soldiers in his detail. O’Rourke has just turned thirty and he’s decided to kill himself.

(NB Since first writing this, the film has finally been given a DVD release, with extras including a director’s commentary)

Char­acter case study: The powerful Antagonist

Terry Evans is the prot­ag­onist of the story, a like­able but weak char­acter, bril­liantly played by David Warner. The figure who domin­ates the film, however, is undoubtedly O’Rourke. Nicol Williamson’s perform­ance is extraordinary; conveying not just the dangerous qual­ities of the char­acter but also his desper­a­tion. He succeeds in making him fright­ening but also piti­able; acting that, at times, seems to burn up the screen.

The film is a great illus­tra­tion of Robert McKee’s injunc­tion to ‘pour energy into the negative side’. Powerful antag­on­ists often make a movie — think of Silence of The Lambs without Hannibal Lector — and are frequently more memor­able than the protagonists.

© David Clough 2010

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