Dance With A Stranger
Shop Around … pt 2
Sales are funny things. It’s odd how some items are suddenly available at “giveaway” prices almost universally. Prime examples at the moment are DVDs of Rude Boy and Blue Velvet which seem to be on sale everywhere at incredibly low prices. And it's a lovely idea that these two films may be infiltrating all sorts of households, messing up minds in a wonderful way.

One other title that is available really rather cheaply is Dance With A Stranger, the mid-‘80s film based on the life (and death I guess) of Ruth Ellis. It’s a film I had almost forgotten about, but it works so well still. It’s captivatingly understated and moving, features some fantastic performances, and deserves some sort of iconic status.

There are some important cultural signposts connected with the film, and it should almost be a staple for anyone still attracted by Morrissey’s obsessions. Was it a film he adored? Possibly not, as it may have been too modern. But the fact that Shelagh Delaney wrote the screenplay should be enough to secure its place in cinematic history. She wrote so little after all. She wrote so little after A Taste Of Honey. Everyone should know about A Taste Of Honey, and then there’s the Lion In Love and Sweetly Sings The Donkey which seem lost. And very little else, though there some screenplays along the way. One I think was Charlie Bubbles, though this too seems a lost cinematic moment.

So the fact Shelagh scripted Dance With A Stranger should have been a cause for mass celebration, and there’s little doubt her contribution created exactly the right context for the tellingly tragic tale of how a woman was driven to murder, and was hanged for the crime of passion. Miranda Richardson is wonderful in the lead role, so suitably simultaneously brassy and vulnerable, struggling to get on and get by as part of the ‘50s London demimonde. Rupert Everett is easy to loathe as the spoilt society brat wrecking lives through his own inherent weakness. Better still though are the contributions from two of our great unsung character actors, Ian Holm and Stratford Johns. Best of all behind the bar we see the lovely Joanna Whalley whetting our appetites for her performance as Christine Keeler in Scandal a short while later.

Indeed there are enough cultural signposts here to seize upon and immortalise but somehow we seem not to have. And now it’s found a home in the bargain basement, which is somehow appropriate. I can at least apply some context of my own and link it to a book it somehow seemed perfectly to go with. Does anyone remember Peter Turner’s book of doomed and damned romance, Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool, from the mid-80s about the final days of Hollywood bad girl Gloria Grahame, one of America’s femme noir, who somehow ended up in Liverpool, finishing her days a long way from the glamour and glitter of the silver screen. I always seem to associate that beautiful book with Dance With A Stranger. There is that same sense of tarnished beauty, beauty leading everyone down blind alleys, blind alleys leading to ridiculous love and devotion, devotion going unrewarded, rewards not being worth the price, and the price being well out of the reach of anyone who should, who should what?

Did anyone ever make a movie out of Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool? I don’t remember one, but I love the idea now more than ever.

© 2005 John Carney