Could never quite see the attraction with Jenny Agutter. I never found her a very convincing actress, although her prime and proper demeanour suited the part of Roberta in the BBC’s adaptation of Edith Nesbit’s children’s classic The Railway Children in 1968, a role she repeated in Lionel Jeffries feature film version in 1970. Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout (1971) was a worthy attempt to play a teenage schoolgirl stranded in the Australian outback with her young brother. But her role in David Greene’s dull attempt at a psychological thriller I Start Counting (1969) was miscast. Her part as an adopted fourteen-year-old catholic schoolgirl Wynne (she was sixteen at the time) who falls in love with her older “brother” George (Bryan Marshall) and goes on to accept the fact that he could be a serial killer is not convincing and a stronger more assertive actress might has made the character more plausible.
Adapted from Audrey Erskine Lindop’s novel by Richard Harris it’s a long way from the swinging London of Green’s Sebastian (1968) in both story and location. Filmed in Bracknell, Berkshire we discover that Wynne is infatuated with her older brother who is twenty years her senior but she assumes that because she is adopted that falling in love him is acceptable - sending jailbait sexuality to the very borders of incest! Wynne’s family has moved from a rather picturesque cottage located on the edge of a common to a clinical looking flat in a concrete tower in the sky. It’s on the common that bodies of two young girls have been found murdered. After witnessing George dispose of a blood stained woolly in a waste bin she begins to suspect him of being involved in the killings. This suspicion does nothing to cool her feelings for her brother, although she starts to question his whereabouts and to follow him discovering there’s more to Georgie boy than meets the eye. Two of the films characters remind you what era we are in, firstly there’s Wynne’s best friend Corinne (Clare Sutcliffe), who according to the local clippie (Simon Ward’s first major role) ‘wears her skirts way too short’, has great fun flirting with George in front of her best friend but when he turns on her she looses interest pretty quick! The second character is the younger brother Len (Gregory Phillips) who keeps a scrapbook of press cuttings about the murders, has a longhaired friend (Michael Feast who you will no doubt recognise from Private Road 1971) who supplies him with dubious looking ‘pills’.
The movie did raise a few hackles at the time of release because of the suggestion of underage sex, or at least the sexual feelings of a fourteen year old. Although credit to Green for not making Agutter appear as a sex object, in fact unlike Corinne, she is quite a plain Jane, her beauty hidden beneath pleated skirts, knee high socks and thick jumpers most of the time. It’s a soft whimsical thriller that lacks bite, with a soundtrack to match. Having never read the novel, I’m not sure if it’s the story that’s weak or David Greene’s direction.