Brighton Rock was originally a novel written by Graham Greene, published in 1938. The murder Thriller set in the 1930’s involves an unlikely heroine who pursues the evil but failed gangster Pinkie Brown. She seeks his punishment while trying to save him from the influences of the young woman Rose whom Pinkie has married to buy her silence. With the suspense, the vivid but usually straightforward characters, well-drawn locations and the shocking conclusion, the novel shows why it achieved great popularity, and why it was successfully adapted for the cinema.
Throughout the novel, many metaphysical questions are asked, such as about the real nature and purpose of this world, about the nature or existence, even of God; about man’s freedom, by his own efforts and to alter his circumstances or lack of this freedom. The writer addresses these questions through his characters and their different views on these matters.
The novel has been adapted into a play (1944), a BBC Radio dramatisation (1997), a musical (2004), and two films (1947 and 2010).
The 1944 crime, drama, thriller adaptation is a British film noir directed by John Boulting. There are some differences between the novel and the film. According to historian Quentin Falk, for example, an “agonized theology” fills the novel. Many of the religious aspects had to be toned down or deleted from Brighton Rock due to censorship requirements. Also deleted from the film were certain scenes of violence. The original climax to the novel, for example, has Pinkie’s face hit by acid before he falls over a cliff. In the film, he falls off a pier but there is no acid to the face.
I took the time to watch both versions of this novel. The 2010 adaptation is in fact a period piece set in 1964 against the backdrop of the mods and rockers era giving the film potentially a great deal more to play with than the simple noir stylings of what came before in the setting.
However, the new Brighton Rock has lost its dark heart. From the rolling waves of the South Coast that crash viciously against the pier to the dank but richly-lit interior of Pinkie’s lair, this is as gloomy a flick as it has ever been. The brooding lead and those around him still occupy a world of mistrust and betrayal, made even more explosive thanks to the growing epidemic of violent youth culture that appears to be taking over the town.
Whereas the original was happy to embrace the cheery seaside nature of the British coast before revealing its grimy foundation, this does no such thing. The characters live in a bleak world, but this is depicted only in their suspicious and serious behavior The mods and rockers theme makes one or two notable appearances, but no real effort is made to bring this world into the overall story and, for the most part, the local gangsters seem completely oblivious to its presence.
The real focus of both films was their young lead. Attenborough (1947’s Pinkie) for me felt much more threatening, as if he could literally fly off the handle at any time. Riley (2010’s Pinkie), on the other hand offers a portrayal of the Young Scarface who seems a touch more frightened and concerned with those around him. But this isn’t always a bad thing. For example, watching Riley’s Pinkie come face to face with Sean Harris’ Fred is a real highlight. Here you can see a change forced in Pinkie that was perhaps less obvious in Attenborough. In addition, there’s a tangible feeling in the remake that Pinkie cares for his shrinking muse, making for a much more engaging and touching relationship between the two. In conclusion, if it’s a simmering, maniacal mini kingpin you want, Sir Richard is your man. But if it is a sharp-suited, smokey-eyed criminal who looks like he just walked out of the display window at Top Man, you may prefer Riley.