“Do I look like a bed sitting room?!”
In post-apocalyptic England, survivors of a nuclear blast — including a pregnant young woman (Rita Tushingham) and her boyfriend (Richard Warwick), Tushingham’s parents (Mona Washbourne and Arthur Lowe), a police sergeant (Dudley Moore) and inspector (Peter Cook), a captain (Michael Hordern), a dress-wearing male nurse (Marty Feldman), an eccentric man living in a shelter (Roy Kinnear), a wandering fireguard (Spike Milligan), and a lord (Ralph Richardson) slowly turning into a bed-sitting room — interact and wander the desolate landscape.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Black Comedy
- Dudley Moore Films
- Nuclear Holocaust
- Play Adaptation
- Ralph Richardson Films
- Richard Lester Films
- Rita Tushingham Films
Described by TCM as director Richard “Lester’s most challenging film,” this bizarrely fantastical black comedy — based on a play by Spike Milligan, who also has a participating role — imagines what life might look and feel like for survivors of a nuclear blast. Given that the characters here are Britons, we see a rigid adherence to ritual and routine, with many seemingly unfazed by the drastic change around them and simply willing to adapt. When Washbourne is handed a death certificate, for instance, she’s sad but accepts it.
Richardson’s stuffy Lord Fortnum tries to protest the changes he feels happening to him:
… but is ultimately powerless, and turns into a lower-class “bedsit” room (he’s shown below in his new form, being given a “wellness check” by Hordern):
Other absurdities abound, including Tushingham being pregnant for 18 months with a monstrous creature, and being coerced into marrying lecherous Hordern in a cobbled ceremony:
… (though she simply continues her relationship with Warwick anyway). There are many more peripheral characters floating around the set (filmed “on location at a refuse dump in West Drayton, England”), but since none of them do anything particularly sensical, it’s challenging to provide a meaningful analysis of the storyline they exist in. Yes, a nuclear holocaust will surely wreak unimaginable havoc on our psyches, and many individuals may try to simply “carry on” as a way of coping — but I’m hard-pressed to see what other point there is to this rambling tale of post-apocalyptic absurdity.
Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:
- David Watkin’s innovative cinematography
- Some truly surreal imagery
No; you can skip this one unless you’re curious. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.
One thought on “Bed Sitting Room, The (1969)”
First viewing (3/23/21). A once-must as a unique cult item. As per my post in ‘Revival House of Camp & Cult’ (fb):
“I feel I am not boasting when I remind you that this was, without a shadow of a doubt, the very shortest war in living memory: two minutes, 28 seconds, up to and including the grave process of signing the peace treaty fully blotted.”
‘The Bed Sitting Room’ (1969): Richard Lester is not among my favorite directors – mainly because, in his films, he tends to push. In fairness to him, however, pushing is what even good directors sometimes do (Mike Nichols did it with the godawful script for ‘The Fortune’.) when they are over-compensating for weak material. If the film happens to be a comedy – but the dialogue isn’t all that funny – directors sometimes push the ‘jokes’ harder or ‘invent’ humor visually.
Throughout his career – with exceptions like ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’ and perhaps a few others – Lester was not usually blessed with the best scripts.
But he did luck out this time.
‘TBSR’ is certainly unique. It’s not a laugh-out-loud comedy (though occasionally it certainly is) but it’s consistently delightful – ‘droll’ is the word I want here – … all the more surprising considering that the setting is largely apocalyptic and miserable. In short, Britain has been blown to bits and (apparently) not all that many people remain. But the ones who do have (essentially) ‘dusted themselves off’ and have simply continued along with ‘the new normal’ of their lives, adjusting rather admirably to severe, unviable ways of living. (They are, after all, British; stiff upper-lip and all that.)
(Compare that reaction to our current pandemic – with Americans split between those doing the right things and those choosing to be ‘murican “and I’ll do what I fuckin’ well want to!”.)
Originally a stage play, the Monty Python-esque ‘TBSR’ did no do well on its release as a film. Acc. to Wikipedia, one of the authors (Spike Milligan) said: “Nobody ever got the point… What we were trying to say… was that if they dropped the bomb on a major civilisation, the moment the cloud had dispersed and sufficient people had died, the survivors would set up all over again… just go right back to square one. I think man has no option but to continue his own stupidity.”
As it plays out, it’s a fascinating point (and, now, one of my favorite Lester films). It is acted *superbly* by a tremendous cast quite at ease with this kind of absurdity: knockout pros such as Richardson, Hordern, Lowe, Washbourne, Tushingham, Warwick, Kinnear, Feldman (in his film debut as ‘Nurse Arthur’), etc.