Michael Winner – an opinionated, self-obsessed, bloated food critic and part-time insurance salesman. Where did it all go wrong? After all, this was a man responsible for some of British cinema’s finest moments in the 1960s – and you can count The System as one of those.
I’ve seen some people compare The System to Quadrophenia – probably because it revolves around a group of sharp-suited teens at a seaside resort (Torbay to be precise) in 1964. But this is a million miles away from that – The System is a slice of social realism from the period just before the 60s really started to swing and unlike much of the output of the era, a film that looks to the continent rather than the kitchensink for inspiration – Fellini, Antonioni and the nouvelle vague all influenced Winner during this time.
Winner also wanted the film to be current, to appeal to a teen audience, using a young cast and a teen-friendly storyline. And as in other Winner gems, the cast is headed up by Oliver Reed as Tinker Taylor, leading a gang (which includes the likes of David Hemmings as the new boy and John Alderton as the one on the way out) who practice ‘The System’. What’s ‘The System’? Well, it’s a way of covering all means of meeting girls during the season – the transport, the shops, the beach and the night life. And in turn, each one of the boys gets ‘the pick’ of the girls (known as thrushes) for a day.
It all works perfectly, until Tinker meets Nicola (Jane Merrow), a rich girl who is down for the week with her father. Romance seems to blossom – but roles suddenly get confused. Who is the ‘taker’ and who is the ‘taken’? And are the people who carry out The System taking advantage of the holidaymakers who come down – or are they the people being used and discarded?
I’ll leave that for you to work out, but one things for sure – you really should check out The System. Visually stunning (Nic Roeg was in charge of photography, so that’s no surprise), The System is also a far deeper movie that you might imagine, dealing with casual sex, the inevitability of marriage, the class divide and the moral climate of the day, with a plot that effortlessly jumps from light to dark in a matter of frames. Some great examples of 60s casual wear for vintage style spotters too.
Like Winner, Oliver Reed is best known for his excesses of later life, but if you want to see Reed doing what he did best (and what he should be remembered for), it’s all here. A giant performance in a forgotten gem of British cinema. It’s now available to buy on DVD for next to nothing, which means you have no excuse to pass it up. Slightly dated at times (especially the theme tune), it’s still a fascinating film, with a top-notch cast and plot to match. Buy it.
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