Joffe’s moving of the story to 1964 is a fair enough cry for originality on his part, but it’s also a tacit admission that you can’t move Greene’s story any further forward in time without changing it radically. Pinkie is a murderer whose Catholic faith and fear of hell and damnation make him dread the death penalty. He courts and marries naive local waitress Rose (an excellent Andrea Riseborough), an accidental witness to his crime, simply so she can’t testify against him in court. All of this – the Catholic guilt, the dread of capital punishment, the innocence of Rose – wouldn’t play well on the other side of the 1960s youth revolution.
There’s a lot of smart thinking behind this film, but I’m not convinced the 1964 setting is entirely successful. At its worst, it feels like a superficial add-on – a chance for Riley to cruise along the seafront on a moped. There’s also the sense of a 1930s story playing out against a 1960s background: Pinkie’s boss, Spicer, played entertainingly by Phil Davies, and his gang of bovver boys feel very pre-war. But maybe that’s the point: the 1960s were a turning point but not everyone was swept up in the revolution immediately.
The new setting works best for Rose, and the scene when she goes out and buys a trendy dress to match her new feeling of womanhood and impress her unimpressed new husband is very effective. If anyone is left at sea, it’s Riley; his Pinkie is charismatic, but a little one note. It’s a shame, too, that we don’t hear Pinkie’s reaction to all the mods-and-rockers action around him. Surely he has an opinion on this?
Joffe’s other big change is to focus more than the 1947 film on the ‘romance’ between Pinkie and new wife Rose and allow his story to amble down more by-ways, some of them involving hard-nosed Ida (Helen Mirren), recast as Rose’s boss at Snow’s cafeteria, but still Pinkie’s chief tormentor. The result of this welcome change in emphasis is that the noir momentum of the Boulting brothers’ movie is lost in favour of a more sensitive, inquiring take on real human relations. Some may find this new ‘Brighton Rock’ a slower, less energetic experience as a result, but at least there’s more room for Joffe to explore the dirty bedsits and towering cliffs of Brighton with some exquisite photography from John Mathieson and production design from James Merifield – even if, unlike the Boulting brothers, he shoots most of his film in nearby, better-preserved Eastbourne.