Mention the name Michael Winner and most film fans (and even the public at large) will have an immediate image of a bombastic, cigar-chomping director churning out violent exploitation and put-downs aplenty.

Well, that may well have been the case for much of his career, but certainly not all of it, and the restoration of West 11 allows us to revisit a time when Winner was overseeing a string of effective, small-scale British thrillers.

In fact, ‘thriller’ may be a stretch for this 1963 outing, which certainly has thrills in its locker, as well as a ‘crime caper’ undercurrent that bubbles to the surface in the latter reels, but is best described as an existential look at life in London – and the very meaning of that life – in the 60s.

Joe Beckett (Alfred Lynch) is the very epitome of a drifter – drifting from job to job, coffee shop and jazz club to coffee shop and jazz club, in and out of relationships and with no real idea of where he is going – or why.

After a bust-up with his landlady over his on/off girlfriend Ilsa (Katherine Breck) sees Joe out on the streets, Joe shacks up with the elderly (and eccentric) Mr Gash, which leads to even further dialogue on just what life is all about, or as Gash puts it ‘the search for truth’.

Facing a crisis, Joe ends up in the clutches of the suave (yet slightly sinister) Captain Dyce, a former army man who is suffering money troubles of his own, hidden beneath a sheen of respectability. Together the pair – at Dyce’s prompting – come up with a plan to make some quick money. But Joe will have to take a trip to the dark side for that way out – and it may even mean murder…

As stated earlier, the film is by no means thrilling, but it is always interesting – and the performances are excellent all round. Lynch is perfectly cast as Joe, oozing an air of indifference whilst also yearning for a life that should be, must be, better than this. Eric Portman as Dyce offers up an ice-cold villain to anchor the plot, while Breck flirts and flits through scenes as Ilsa. We also then get the added bonus of Diana Dors as Georgia, a divorcee moving from man to man as she searches for her own connection and meaning.

In many ways Winner is the star here though, working the script (adapted from a novel by Laura del-Rivo) into somewhat of a mood piece, a real time capsule of a film offering us a fascinating glimpse at life in Notting Hill in the early 60s.

Throw in a jazz soundtrack (Acker Bilk provides the theme) and some great location footage and West 11 proves a nice find. It is not perfect – the pace could have been helped by trimming certain scenes (a section with Joe meeting Catholic priests seems unnecessary for example) – but it is more than watchable and certainly comes recommended.

EXTRAS: Not a tremendous amount to go on here, but film historian Matthew Sweet offers up an interesting – and detailed – dissection of the film, which argues convincingly that, if anything, West 11 belongs alongside the best of the European directors (Godard etc) operating at the time. There is also the original trailer, worth watching for how it attempts to market the film.

WEST 11 is released on Blu-ray on July 5

Blu-ray Review: West 11
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About The Author

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written three books - on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014), the history of the character Norman Bates (2015) and the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker (2017). He is currently working with director Richard Loncraine to explore all avenues in a bid to orchestrate the re-release of 1978 Mia Farrow chiller Full Circle