Charlie Bubbles  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Charlie Bubbles is a British film of 1967 starring Billie Whitelaw and Albert Finney, and also featuring a young Liza Minnelli. It was listed to compete at the 1968 Cannes Film Festival, but the festival was cancelled due to the events of May 1968 in France.

The film made great play of its Manchester setting, contrasting the return of its eponymous lead character, played by Finney, to his home city after achieving success as a writer in London. During his return he visits his former wife, played by Whitelaw, in Derbyshire and watches a Manchester United match at Old Trafford, featuring footage of Bobby Charlton and Denis Law with his son. They are cut off from the outside world in a glass-fronted box as they watch the match. Finney's character is bored with his success and his privileged position, which allows him to indulge himself in most ways he wishes. One of these is a relationship with his secretary Eliza, played by Minnelli (in one notable scene it is apparent, though not shown, that she gets a good look at him).

Bubbles glides around in a gold Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III convertible - CB 1E, contrasting sharply with the working class life and the poverty of post war Salford. From London along the newly constructed M1, Bubbles heads to Manchester, a journey that is depicted as taking almost an age to complete. The scenes at the petrol station before they set off, and at the motorway service station with Yootha Joyce portrayed as an ostentatious millionairess and Alan Lake the RAF squaddie who cadges a lift and eventually drives the Rolls, tell a story of two tales. When they arrive in Manchester the reference to the colliery and the gas works further put forward the message that Bubbles has come a long way since he was a boy, but that even now after his success he isn't really fulfilled. Liza Minnelli photographing the hatchet faced old man at a bus stop and the child on a bike whilst driving open top along the cobbled and crumbling streets is particularly poignant. These street scenes are a reminder of a Manchester that is long gone and are an accurate record of the mass demolition of so much of working class Victorian back to back dwellings. Joe Gladwin plays a waiter serving breakfast in the Manchester hotel room. "I used to know your father Sir, is he still deaf?....He was unemployed for some years...We're all very proud of you. Are you still working Sir or do you just do the writing now?" Bubbles smiles wryly and retorts "No, I just do the writing" and hands him a bank note. There is good use of little dialogue within the film and subtly amusing and poignant scenes such as this very much highlight and accurately capture the North-South divide - political and socio-economic - that was so obvious at the time.

After leaving Manchester Bubbles drives to see his son Jack Timothy Garland and it becomes obvious that visits are few and far between. We are also introduced to his ex-wife Lotti Billie Whitelaw who is running a farm (bought by Bubbles) deep in the Derbyshire hills. Father and son go to a football match and eat hotdogs from their private box at Old Trafford. An old school friend turned newspaper reporter enters the box and the two chat awkwardly for a few moments, the friend declaring that he would never leave his grass roots, talking of London and the people who "get bogged down with a lot of false values". A sentence that is clearly aimed towards the boy who done good. The film then sharply cuts to scenes outside the stadium where Charlie is suddenly looking for the boy. Bubbles returns to the farm without the boy, driving the Rolls erratically and stopping to vomid on the way, only to find Jack has found his own way home and is now watching television. There's some restrospective and reminiscent interplay between Finney and Whitlelaw and it isn't difficult to see why she won a BAFTA in 1968 for Best Supporting Actress.

Much of the film depicts the World from the mind of the person, whereby the viewer becomes Charlie so we see much of the film through the eyes of a clever but melancholy and dissatisfied observer of life. Although dated, the principals and bitter sweet theme of this film still ring true and the movie can easily hold its own nearly 50 years later. The character Charlie Bubbles was almost type-casting for the successful and charismatic Finney in terms of background; he had risen to film-stardom from a background as a bookie's son in the neighbouring, mainly working class City of Salford. Charlie Bubbles was not only Albert Finney's debut as a director but was also the last time he has directed a box office film.

The film is a slightly surreal off-shoot of the kitchen sink drama in which Finney had achieved stardom in Karel Reisz's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning of 1960. The film's writer Shelagh Delaney, had also achieved fame as the writer of another film in this genre - Tony Richardson's 1961 A Taste of Honey. Delaney also wrote Lindsay Anderson's 1967 film The White Bus like Charlie Bubbles, set in part in Manchester and Salford, which has a distinctly surreal feel to it at times.

Charlie Bubbles is referred to in The Kinks song "Where are they now?", on the album Preservation Act 1.

The film was released on DVD in September 2008.


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