Despite being set in London's Swinging Sixties, Up the Junction comes across just as apropos of America's here and now.
Up the JunctionDirector: Peter Collinson
Cast: Suzy Kendall, Dennis Waterman, Adrienne Posta, Maureen Lipman
Release date: 2014-04-29
Up the Junction has been going for almost 45 minutes before Polly Dean (Suzy Kendall), whose '60s-era Suzanne York-ness instantly puts her at odds with the surroundings, is asked what she's doing in such a gloomy British factory town when she was raised rich and proper across the river in fancy pants Chelsea. She is evasive, offering an answer without really providing a response, and this distinct absence of convenient exposition describes the overall experience of director Peter Collinson's adaptation of Nell Dunn's award-winning book from 1963.
Dunn's work was a collection of short stories, and while the filmed version does sometimes suggest an assortment of vignettes, it remains cohesive on account of Polly's plight. She's a Posh Spice purposely seeking out life on the wrong side of the tracks.
The film's opening shot finds the camera tracking with Polly's private car as she crosses the River Thames and gets dropped off to hop a bus. At that point the camera pans south, focusing on the distant smokestacks of industrial Battersea before fading out. Instantly, the camera fades back in, this time positioned directly in front of those same smokestacks, swiftly conveying the idea that even if these two places are within sight of each other, they are wholly separate.
It would seem this separation is precisely what Polly seeks. Straight off the bus, she walks into a candy factory and applies for a job. The foreman and his secretary look at Polly like she's an Eloi coming down to congregate with the Morlocks. Still, if she says she wants to work, they'll put her to work.
She meets a pair of sisters, Rube (Adrienne Posta) and Sylvie (Maureen Lipman), both speaking in accents so thick they may as well be a different language. At first, Polly can hardly deduce their slang, a tourist struggling in a new place without the guidebook, but she quickly ingratiates herself and they become friends.
The scenes in the factory are evocative for the way they place a gaggle of women together, young and old and very old, visually demonstrating how a whole life can be lived out in one place. Indeed, there's a fatalistic air about Battersea, an unbroken yellow line of weekly work and weekend play that culminates in "a pine box". This is how Pete (Dennis Waterman), the one local boy who doesn't seem intent on dressing like a Beatle and whom Polly begins dating, puts it.
The only respite from such dismalness is drinking and the false hope of more money. And if in Polly's prior life she had so much money, why would she willingly walk away from it to take a crap job and live in a dingy flat with hand-me-down furniture?
Oh, just for fun, let's spin Pulp's "Common People" while we read, shall we?