Waris Hussein / UK / 1971 / 103mins
Available on Blu-Ray from Mon 8 May 2017
Has childhood changed so very much over the decades? You betcha. Set in an inner London school Melody tells of puppy love with all its excitement, embarrassment and unfathomable joy. The kids in question are around twelve, and it’s an innocent yet rebellious world that has largely disappeared – smoking behind the bike sheds, bunking off school, zooming about on bicycles unsupervised. A time of school blazers and duffel bags, kicking cans down the street, teachers in black gowns, lessons in Latin and hymns at morning assembly. A time when policeman helped you cross the road and taxi drivers wore ties. It all seems almost as distant as the 1870’s never mind the 1970’s.
After the mammoth success of the movie musical Oliver! (1968) there was a keenness to exploit the magical spark between the two juvenile leads Mark Lester (gooey-eyed, well-mannered, diffident) and Jack Wild (a Cockney sparra with a face like a troll). In Melody they play unlikely best mates.
Mark’s home is middle-class aspirational with two nagging parents. Jack is, in the modern parlance, a kinship carer who has to get home to cook his old man’s sausages). Mark and Tracy Hyde’s (the Melody of the title) eyes meet in the school canteen. They may be prepubescent but they want to get married. Aw, bless.
If this sounds sentimental claptrap it’s not. The adults are uniformly grotesque and the kids play it for real. There are genuine London locations with unwitting bystanders becoming extras. There’s also a lovely soundtrack provided by the Bee Gees and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. No, it’s not exactly gritty but there is a documentary, fly-on-the-wall feel about the filming. The script was written by Alan Parker and although it’s slight there are moments of fun in jeopardy. The class nerd is trying to make a firework bomb.
The rampaging kids in Melody know a life uncontaminated by political correctness, health’n’safety, clean-eating and paedo panic. It’s these kids who, as adults, will become the helicopter parents of today’s millennials. How did that happen?
Oh, and S.W.A.L.K. stands for ‘sealed with a loving kiss’.