Have you seen it?
Right. It opens with dancing — that funny canned dancing from some 60s television program, and the faces of two old people watching. Prurient, disapproving. It’s rather horrible. And into the script written by poet Christoper Logue, and the poetic chorus sung to a very modern, discordant kind of music. Which was the first surprise.
We are the little investors
We are afraid of Negroes and Jews
We are boring, it is easy to mock us
But what would you put in our place?
… Politicians love us
There’s much more, but I can find the lyrics nowhere, and who has time to transcribe them?
And so we are launched into the story after some nasty comments from the parents, their cross daughter, and the handing over of £400 to Arthur (Ken Jones — briefly in 3 Clear Sundays) with many an admonition. It’s their life savings, it’s the reason they’ve been so miserable all these years, it’s the reason they don’t have nice things, never had a holiday. It’s clear they don’t think much of him, so I had to wonder at why they should do such a thing. It’s some kind of Orwellian test. Father and daughter walk out the door and the camera pans disjointedly over suburban rows of brick houses and endless white window frames, the occasional semi-detached, you can see the subtle class distinctions street by street in the presence or absence of bow windows, the size of the gardens.
The curious greek chorus continues:
We are not very likeable
We are not very easy to like
We work in big cities
They sing of the great lower middle classes. I thought of Erich Fromm writing about how they are the mainstay of fascism, thought of Brexit and xenophobia.
Luckily, a huge brick wall and a door and we escape with Arthur and his daughter Emmy (Maureen Ampleford) into what feels like wilderness, a grass hill, flowers — yet you find out they have escaped into the gas works. A huge hill of slag and earth and they climb to the top.
A funny voiceover (I love these voiceovers, this mixing of documentary and film — a feature of everything I’ve seen so far) describing as a bureaucrat would this problem of a gas works (but not too much of a problem of course). There were Rhubarb fields here once…now just dust and cranes in the distance, industrial buildings. I have a slight fascination with gas works myself, so this has just built onto it another layer.
And so they arrive to stare at their gloomy house. Go inside and pick their way across broken floors, rubbish. Full of dismay. Encounter the agent, encounter a second family wishing to buy. (That’s Arthur on the left staring up).
While the nasty little son is propositioning Emmy and the wife is going on about tearing down walls and saying things like ‘We’re great friends of the Liberal candidate’, her husband pulls Arthur aside:
For god’s sake buy it, I can’t afford it … I buy the Times and read the Express, I’m ashamed of my parents…
The horrible couple get the house! It cuts to crowds cheering!
Neighbours, homeowners, open your ears! … Many are called but few are chosen…
Lose the house? Arthur and Emmy are overjoyed. The money is burning a hole in his coat and you know his in-laws are right not to trust him. Awful as they were I still felt a pang. But I did quite love his idea of treating his daughter to one impossibly wonderful day. They take a cab to the west end, walk down Oxford or Regent Street, arrive at Fortnum & Mason’s and OMG THE HATS! Again the old technique of zooming into other people’s conversations and then out again. I love it. Are those gangsters’ wives? They must be. Oh, and I forgot Ken Loach’s own cameo at the entrance.
They wander. I chuckled out loud when the watch salesman burst into song. It was extremely, and I mean extremely, surprising.
They buy a gold watch.
More songs, surprise shot of half-naked indigenous women in their village carrying out everyday tasks. That was a bit worrying really, but over all it is surreal and Brechtian and so while I had expected sadness and depression, instead I was all puzzled smiles. I enjoyed it, I mean, actually enjoyed it.
Still, there were to be honest unhappy couples everywhere. One moral is that happiness is not to be found in monogamy.
They go to the zoo. Police take them aside, walk them through huge space, white walls. But it’s not the wife’s call to the police that’s done it, but a surprise gift as Emmy is the 5-millionth ‘savage’ to visit. There is an absurd and quite wonderful homily on the horribleness of children. Another moral? But the nicest thing about this film is this father and daughter who seem so alien to the crabbed family they have left behind.
It cuts to a naked Adam and Eve running through the woods.
The narrator returns for these scenes, and others cut from a nature documentary, really it’s rather glorious. More songs, and this brilliant line:
that special kind of zoo called paradise
I don’t know quite what that sarcastic line means, but I like it. And then they buy an elephant. Of course. There forms a great parade of bright young things.
Arthur is lovely, absolutely lovely.
So they end up on a barge full of more people dancing, talking, music playing…everything the opposite of the home Arthur is returning to. The elephant disappears…I was very confused about that. I am not alone.
It all goes a little sad then, I guess it had to. Arthur drinks too much, upsets Emmy, throws the rest of the money away to float down the Thames. I was rather cross with him myself. His wife’s packed a suitcase for him and meets him at the door, and Emmy disappears inside. I worry about her, not so much Arthur who tosses the suitcase in the bushes and walks jauntily off.
I did like this film very much. Because it was so strange, because it felt so unpolished. And because it was fun. I did, however, find a great quote from Ken Loach himself, which I shall end this post on:
Yes, I was guilty of that (film). Christopher Logue, who’s a fine poet, had written a very funny, imaginative script, a surreal fantasy with songs by Stanley Myers about a man given some money to pay a deposit on a house and goes off and buys an elephant with his daughter. There were scenes involving the elephant going down a canal on a barge. There was no way I could achieve that. I could see it in my head, but I didn’t have the technique or experience to bring it off. I was the wrong person for the job, unfortunately. It was the first time I had shot anything on film too, and it was a total cock up
— Ken Loach on directing The End of Arthur’s Marriage (as found on Letterboxd)
Life is more than that house, that car, that work and more work endlessly striving for material possessions and life measured in their worth.
But money is really nice.