Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The 14 (The Wild Little Bunch)

A story about kids too old to be children, too immature to be adult. Raised in a big city [London] slum, orphaned when their [widowed] 38-year-old Mother dies, they fought desperately to stay together as a family. They are unruly, undisciplined, and defiant of well-intentioned authority when it seeks to split them up for their own good. There are no villains’ in this story. Only victims of a society we ourselves have created.  As a film it is tough, rough and raw. It is also warm and deeply moving. It has laughter as well as tears, heartbreak as well as hope. It is more than a great Motion Picture experience. It is a great human document – one you will never forget![1]

Is this a fair description of David Hemmings second directorial outing? Yes - I think it is. The 14 (1973) known as The Wild Little Bunch on its release in the USA, is certainly a heart rendering story about the 14 orphans of the title. Similar in tone to the social problem films of the 1950’s and 60’s, films like The Pool of London (1953), Violent Playground (1958), Victim (1961) and A Place to Go (1963) and one that brings to mind Jack Clayton’s Our Mothers House (1967). The children range from the 17 year old Reg, played by Jack Wild, right down to wee baby Marie.  They all live in a house in a street that’s due for slum clearance; in fact some dwellings have already been demolished! The family are just about making ends meet when their mother (EastEnders regular June Brown) falls ill and dies in hospital leaving the children completely alone.  Welfare places a Mrs Booth (another EastEnders star Anna Wing who played Lou Beale from 1985-1988 who sadly died last year.) in the house to look after the children, a placement that goes tits-up in a rather hilarious fashion. The story continues with the children attempting to look after themselves with the help of Reg’s girlfriend Reena (Cheryl Hall best known as Wolfie’s girlfriend in the TV sitcom Citizen Smith) who moves in along with her own two young babies.  But Welfare, who one must be honest are not painted in too bad a light by Roland Starke’s screenplay, are not happy with these arrangements and begin to split the family up - much to their displeasure.
Reg and Reena get the oven working....

....a result - Christmas dinner. 

"I've got my eye on you son"

This entertaining but moving story was entered in the 23rd Berlin International Film Festival where it won the Silver Bear. Set in East London and made at Pinewood Studios by Avianca Productions London WC2 The 14 is purported to be based on a true story about the struggle of a family of Birmingham orphans to stay together, in spite of what the authority’s put in their way, who eventually are relocated as a family on a farm in Cornwall. Maybe a tiny bit emotional at times but never melodramatic which is probable due to the cracking cast of non-actors that play the children and manage to enhance the anarchic reality of the story.  Made available on DVD for the first time from Network and well worth a look.

[1] Promotional press book.

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