Thursday, May 09, 2013

Bryan Forbes


As a tribute to Bryan Forbes, here is an extract from my forthcoming book New Waves in Cinema, which details BF's dealings with the then British censor, John Trevelyan:

"What was acceptable to the public was still constrained by notions of respectability that were rapidly becoming outdated. Despite wanting to encourage filmmakers, Trevelyan and his colleagues were in no way bohemian, as actor-turned-screenwriter-turned director Bryan Forbes recorded in his memoirs. Forbes was not part of the Woodfall group, but his early films, The L-Shaped RoomWhistle Down the Wind and Séance on a Wet Afternoon, could all be considered new wave through their sympathetic treatment of northern, working-class characters, use of location shooting, and using books by new, young writers as source material. Forbes’s second feature, The L-Shaped Room – based on the novel by Lynne Reid Banks and originally intended by Room at the Top producer James Woolf to be a project for Jack Clayton – received a lengthy list of required changes from Trevelyan. The story follows the fortunes of Jane (Leslie Caron), a young unmarried woman who falls pregnant but has no wish to marry the baby’s father, and ends up living in a boarding house – the L-shaped room of the title. 

While acknowledging that the script is ‘a fine piece of writing that should make a sincere and moving film’, Trevelyan predictably balked at references to abortion, as well as the usual suspects like ‘Christ’, ‘sod’ and ‘arse’. Also castigated were lines as memorable as ‘That’s the sort of thing that makes me want to fornicate right in the middle of Westminster Abbey during a Royal Wedding’. ‘Erotic visuals’ were likewise discouraged: ‘Care should be taken with the visuals of couples fondling one another... we would not want breast-rubbing or thigh-rubbing; nor would we want copulatory dancing’, and neither did they want ‘any censorable visuals especially in view of [Jane’s] pregnant condition’. Not only were direct references to fornication discouraged, but Trevelyan was not happy that John (Brock Peters) has heard his next-door neighbours fornicating: ‘This kind of thing is going to need extreme care’, and then, later in the same letter, ‘I would prefer the removal of the emphasis on the fact that he has heard their making love.’ In the end, Forbes agreed to only six [of the twenty-plus] changes [Trevelyan had asked for]."



Bryan Forbes, 1926-2013.

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