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Of Time and the City


Stars: (documentary)

Director: Terence Davies

A rather portentous documentary about Liverpool, with some great, atmospheric archive footage, but loosely constructed and heavily narrated by the director himself, who comes across as unsympathetic and cantankerous. John Betjeman had the wistfulness and lightness of touch that Davies aims for but misses.

The initial part of the film is the best, coated in nostalgia and centred on Davies' memories as a gay man growing up on Merseyside in the 1950s and 1960s, at football matches, wrestling bouts, trips to the seaside and the movies - cue rare footage of Ben Lyon, Bebe Daniels, Gregory Peck, Richard Todd and Margaret Lockwood clowning around at a glitzy Liverpool premiere.

Davies also dodges off into more general history - the Korean War and the 1953 coronation, with the director, ever the anti-royalist, caustically labelling the latter as the 'farce' that began 'The Betty Windsor Show'. Brought up in the Catholic Church, he now refers to himself as a 'born-again atheist' and has fonder memories of 'gobstoppers that would last into your middle age'. All our yesterdays indeed.

The latter part of the film is heavier going, wandering backwards and forwards in time, concentrating on buildings rather than people and becoming mournful, even morose in tone. The Beatles get short shrift, but Peggy Lee's rendition of The Folks Who Live on the Hill, even though it backs ironic views of tower blocks, is still a real charmer, while the extract from radio's Round the Horne, featuring Julian and Sandy, raises the film's only smile.

David Quinlan

USA 2008. UK Distributor: BFI. Colour/black and white.
78 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 27 Oct 2008