THE ANNIVERSARY. (1968) A BITCHY BLACK COMEDY FROM HAMMER FILMS REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

THE ANNIVERSARY. (1968) HAMMER FILM PRODUCTIONS/SEVEN ARTS PRODUCTIONS. BASED ON THE PLAY OF THE SAME NAME BY BILL MCILWRAITH. DIRECTED BY ROY WARD BAKER. PRODUCED BY JIMMY SANGSTER. SCREENPLAY BY JIMMY SANGSTER.

STARRING BETTE DAVIS, JAMES COSSINS, JACK HEDLEY, CHRISTIAN ROBERTS, SHEILA HANCOCK AND ELAINE TAYLOR.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This film is a Hammer black comedy rather than a Hammer horror. Or, to look at it another way, it’s only a horror in the sense that it’s a film about one of the most horrible families you could ever hope to watch on a cinema screen.

I believe the movie was a commercial success, and it’s certainly very well acted (it was a stage play to begin with), but there’s something about it that makes my skin crawl a little bit. Am I in the minority here, or does anyone else feel a little bit uncomfortable watching THE ANNIVERSARY…?

Bette Davis, the grande olde dame of the silver screen, is undoubtedly magnificent here as Mrs. Taggart, a shrewdly manipulative old biddy who rules her family with an iron fist in a glove carved from solid granite.

From her entrance at the top of the stairs in her palatial family home, clad in a fire-engine red dress to match the eye-patch over her damaged left peeper, she steals every single scene she’s a part of and leaves the younger ones standing, though they’re no slouches either in the acting stakes.

Old Ma Taggart’s husband has been as dead as the dodo for a good ten years. Nonetheless, every year on the anniversary of their marriage, Ma gathers her ‘beloved’ family around her for an excruciating, nails-on-a-blackboard-style get-together in which the suspicions, the rivalries and the dislike-verging-on-hatred that simmer inside the individual family members during the year bubble to the surface and spill over into all-out war.

Ma is at the centre of everything that’s rotten about the Taggart family. She controls the family purse strings and, therefore, her three sons. By choosing to remain at the head of the Taggart construction company herself and make her minions dance to her tune, it’s clear she sees herself as the boss of all she surveys. My money, my rules, is how she sees it, and divide and conquer is, seemingly, how she prefers it.

She dispenses insults, barbs and little digs with the same coldly glittering panache with which she might mix you a drink at the family bar. The dialogue is bitchy, quite witty in places and comprises the blackest of black comedy, and the very best lines, of course, all go to the girl with the Bette Davis Eyes, La Davis herself.

Her three sons have all the problems you might expect in a family where the mother is the dominant one, the driving force in their lives. It would be hard for any of them to be truly successful in their lives and happy in their relationships without first getting out from under the thumb of their dreadful mother, whose modus operandi is to ferret out a person’s weak spot and beat them over the head with it until they cry ‘mercy!’

James Cossins (FAWLTY TOWERS, SOME MOTHERS DO ‘AVE ‘EM) plays the eldest son Henry. He seems like a gentle, sweet man, but he so far has been unable to sustain a romantic relationship and probably never will, not while his malicious mumsy continues to manipulate him regarding his cross-dressing and knicker-nicking tendencies.

Ma alternately shields him from the legal repercussions of his crimes (well, stealing women’s knickers off a clothesline is illegal, isn’t it?) and holds it over him and his brothers as a threat. As in: ‘If you won’t do exactly what I want, I’ll hand poor dear Henry over to the police and he can get treatment for his ‘ailments’ in a mental hospital…!’ The auld bitch. How can she threaten poor dear Henry like that? Poor guy doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going.

Terry, the middle son, isn’t up to much. Sure, he’s given his old bag of a mother five grandchildren with his wife Karen, but he gets constantly bawled out by Karen for not standing up to Mrs. Taggart. Karen is a relentless nag.

Watch her in CARRY ON CLEO, giving endless grief to her hen-pecked husband Hengist Pod, played by Kenneth Connor, and you can easily imagine her tearing strips out of Terry too. Terry is not his own man. He gets dominated by his overbearing mother and nagged to death by his wife. I don’t think he’s happy.

Tom, the youngest, is a womaniser who brings a different girl to ‘the Anniversary-with-a-capital-A’ every year. This year he’s brought the pretty blonde Shirley to flaunt in his mother’s face.

There are rather dark sexual undertones in this storyline. Ma Taggart is horribly jealous of anyone who grabs her precious youngest son’s attention, and she’s used to dispatching his girlfriends swiftly before they get their claws into Tom and their feet under the Taggart table.

Old Ma Taggart might have some slight bit of difficulty in dislodging this little lady from out of the family tree. Shirley is determined to be Tom’s wife, and, as she’s pregnant, she might just have more of a chance than any of the others did.

She seems to want to dominate Tom in the same way that his mother does, though, and Tom seems to have a bit more gumption than either Henry or Terry, so he may not tolerate this from Shirley. ‘Out of the frying pan…’

Shirley makes the mistake of trying to ‘stand up’ to Mrs. Taggart. This, as the mouthy Karen could have told her, is a terrible road to go down. No woman will ever be good enough for one of Mrs. Taggart’s precious sons. Even the flawed, broken ones, she wants to keep close to her for ever. That’s probably the way she likes ’em best, to be honest with you.

It’s an unhealthy foursome, Ma Taggart and her three sons, like a stinking pulsating mass of something icky from a science fiction movie that needs to be zapped, incinerated and then scraped away the next morning by the council. And what happens on the night of ‘the Anniversary?’ itself? Well, it’s family-only, I’m afraid. No randomers need apply. Mummy wouldn’t like it…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

ANOTHER BOUQUET (OF BARBED WIRE): THE 1977 SEQUEL TO THE SEXY, CONTROVERSIAL TV SERIES REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

bouquet 2

ANOTHER BOUQUET (OF BARBED WIRE). (1977) BASED ON THE WRITINGS OF ANDREA NEWMAN. MADE BY LONDON WEEKEND TELEVISION. DIRECTED AND PRODUCED BY TONY WHARMBY AND JOHN FRANKAU.

STARRING FRANK FINLAY, SHEILA ALLEN, SUSAN PENHALIGON, JAMES AUBREY, DEBORAH GRANT, ERIC CARTE, CAROL DRINKWATER AND PHILIP MADOC.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Hmmm. Well. I loved this second instalment of the BOUQUET OF BARBED WIRE television series nearly as much as the first, but I’m not at all happy with the way it’s turned out. Some absolutely mad stuff happens to some of the characters that I can’t believe they’d be happy to go along with, but then, it’s a mad, mad, mad, mad, mad world we live in and, who knows, maybe they are happy, the bunch of crazy loons.

Poor Peter Eliot Manson is in a bad way. Still separated from the saintly Cassie and living in the flat he bought for his former mistress Sarah Francis, he’s obsessed with his dreams and thoughts of his daughter Prue and seems to be gradually losing touch with reality. He tries to concentrate on Prue’s little girl, his grand-daughter, but she’s not a patch on Prue, unfortunately, and she won’t compensate Peter for his daughter’s absence.

He’s revolted to the pit of his stomach to find that his wife, Cassie, has been sleeping with the son-in-law he loathes, Gavin, and furthermore, that the affair started when the pregnant Prue was in hospital after being beaten up by Gavin. He sees Gavin as having murdered his beloved daughter and ruined his marriage. No wonder he wants to biff him in the schnozz…

Annoying goody-two-shoes Cassie is hurt beyond belief that bad boy Gavin, Prue’s widower and the baby’s father, has ditched his older girlfriend (Cassie) for a new woman. It was bound to happen. She should never have hooked up with him in the first place, and her a respectable married woman in her forties (at least!).

She loses no time in hooking up with Gavin’s new girlfriend Vicky’s father, a Dr. Lewis, a really annoying, commitment-phobic man who is not ashamed to admit that he has two other women on the go as well. Cassie thinks she can be modern enough and mature enough to put up with this bullshit, but I’m telling you now that she won’t. No woman worth her salt would.

Gavin has a really sick relationship with his new girlfriend Vicky, who seems to be as masochistic as Prue was. ‘Do anything you want to me, Gavin, only please love me!’ The relationship is not a healthy one, and the worst part about it is that Gavin doesn’t give a shit about poor unloved hippy chick Vicky. (Her father, Dr. ‘Freelove’ Lewis, is horribly neglectful towards her too.)

All she is to the carelessly cruel Gavin is a free babysitter and sex on tap when he feels like it. Elizabeth ‘There is only ice in the ice house’ Romilly is excellent in the role of deeply troubled Vicky. In choosing Gavin to love, she’s only replicating the loveless relationship she has with her selfish bastard of a father.

The most frustrating thing of all about this sequel was the fate of my favourite character, Sarah Francis, Peter’s former secretary and mistress. Even now, she keeps muddying the waters by continuing to sleep with Peter behind the back of her rich handsome blond husband, Geoff, who is extremely loving towards her and lenient about her independent ways and all the time she spends away from him ‘getting a bit of space.’ Space, my eye!

Anyway, Sarah discovers she’s pregnant and, instead of plumping for living a privileged, charmed life as Rich Geoff’s adored wife (did I mention he was rich?), she goes off and deliberately chooses a really stupid and probably temporary alternative which will possibly put Geoff off her forever. Well, it serves her right, if she’s actually going to be that irresponsible about her future…!

She’s self-sabotaging big-time because somewhere deep down inside her, she doesn’t think she deserves to be happy or loved. This course she’s chosen now won’t yield any love or fulfilment, just more of the punishment she probably feels she has coming to her. And, who knows, maybe she’s in love with the drama and excitement of it all as well, the excitement of living such an undisciplined and unstructured life. I wash my hands of the whole thing.

Did anyone notice the way the baby is treated in the series, by the way? Apart from, obviously, as the poor parcel in ‘pass the bleedin’ parcel…!’ They keep putting her down on her tummy to sleep, which, yes, you’re right, that’s what they thought was best back then, but it’s since been proven to be a bit of a big fat no-no.

Also, Cassie keeps putting the baby out in the garden on a blanket (on her tummy, of course!) while she herself goes back into the house to do the washing-up or read the paper, and the front gate is wide open so anyone who wants to can come into the garden and steal the baby, which actually happens in the series. It causes a big furore, but you can’t say that it doesn’t serve Cassie and Gavin right…!

Also, when Gavin tells Cassie that Vicky’s lost her temper with the baby and shaken her a little bit, Cassie brushes it off and says it’s nothing. Oh, she says, I used to shake Prue and the boys all the time when they were babies, it didn’t do them any harm…! I’m just glad that times have changed since then, that’s all I’m saying.

Peter’s ending is incredibly sad. I cried buckets at it. How I would have loved another sequel, but some things are finite and that’s that. I know there was a re-make of the series in 2010, but I can’t imagine myself wanting to watch it, having seen the excellent and incomparable original series. Why re-make everything, anyway, instead of creating something new? Some things are perfectly fine just as they are.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com