I’ve watched The White Bus in full twice this week and you know what? I still haven’t a clue what it’s actually about.
Not that it matters, this mini-movie is a joy on the eye and well worth 40 or so minutes of your time.
It certainly has an impressive pedigree. Based on a short story by Salford author Shelagh Delaney (the woman behind A Taste Of Honey) and with an original working title of Red, White and Zero, it was set to be one part of a trio of shorts, but due to budget problems and timing, the parts by Karel Reisz and Tony Richardson never appeared originally. Although thanks to the BFI, Woodfall Film’s portmanteau feature was finally released in the UK a few years back fully-restored and with loads of extras. More on that at the end.
I’m focusing on the best-known part by Lindsay Anderson, which appeared with little fanfare in 1967 and promptly disappeared for years after before re-emerging as something of a cult classic.
Of late, The White Bus has even started to get showings on one of the satellite movie channels and can sometimes be found on YouTube, although with the official release that seems to have been stopped. So no longer the cult gem it once was. But on the plus side, this tale of one girl’s day in Manchester is now getting the wider audience it deserves.
So what’s the story? Well, there’s isn’t one really. The girl (played by the stunning Patricia Healey) is stuck in a dead-end job in London. At the end of the day, she walks out and walks straight to the overnight train to Manchester (with a couple of distractions along the way), waking up in that city and wandering out into a deserted city centre.
After spending some time strolling around, she catches ‘The White Bus’, a maiden voyage of a bus taking the sights of ’60s Manchester which happens to be packed by a mixed crowd, headed up by the mayor himself (Arthur Lowe).
After that, we’re taken on a journey around some less obvious sites, from the industrial expanses through to the arty locations, throwing in a few oddball visits along the way. When that’s over, the girl leaves then heads back to the city’s streets and ends the day with some fish ‘n’ chips.
Doesn’t sound great, does it? Trust me, it’s better than you think. Director Lindsay Anderson obviously used this as a testing ground for future projects (including If… and Oh Lucky Man!), throwing in techniques like the use of black & white and colour scenes and a couple of ‘shock’ moments that will make you wonder whether this is reality or fantasy.
It’s neither. Or both. It’s also a film thick with imagery and hidden meaning – you can make your own mind up about all of that. The one thing I do know is that The White Bus is a wonderful thing to watch, especially if you are familiar with Manchester itself – the scene where ‘the girl’ emerges on Oxford Road near the Odeon is a joy to behold. Look out for early screen appearances from Anthony Hopkins and Barry ‘Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush’ Evans too.
As I said, the BFI has released it as part of the trio of films on a dual-format disc, selling for just £7.79.