The Irish-rooted Michael Marler (Nicol Williamson) is a businessman living and working in London. His arrogance and determination has brought him success and a marriage on the verge of a breakdown. When he learns that his father has had a serious accident, he promptly drives back to his Liverpool hometown to reunite with his estranged family.
Once a bloody Irish bastard, always a bloody Irish bastard
Move over, Michael Caine! Your ‘Get Carter’ might very well be acclaimed around the world and listed as one of the most virulent British cult thrillers ever made, but this obscure and undiscovered (and, at one point, even considered lost) drama/thriller with very reminiscent themes predates your film with nearly two years and it’s a lot more ambitious in terms of character study and social criticism!
Okay, so now that’s off my chest… Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against Michael Caine or ‘Get Carter’. Quite the contrary, in fact, but I just want to plea for ‘The Reckoning’ to become more known and loved amongst cult fanatics worldwide! What this puppy needs is a proper and fancy DVD-release, as I’m 200% sure it will appeal to a lot of cult collectors. The film really has it all: an unbelievable intense tour-de-force performance by leading man Nicol Williamson, a grim & gritty contemporary late ’60s/early ’70s atmosphere, few but exhilarating action sequences and numerous of mind-boggling dialogues.
Michael Marler is a successful businessman in London, but in spite of all his power and money he is a bitter man, specially in his marriage with the beautiful Rosemary (Ann Bell). He’s merciless (especially in his job as a sales executive) and aggressive (especially behind the wheel of his car). He is frustrated because he grew up as an oppressed Irishman in the intolerant city of Liverpool and still doesn’t manage to put this tough period from the past behind him. Michael returns to Liverpool to see his dying father, but arrives too late. When he learns that his father’s death was actually the result of a cowardly assault by young British thugs, his outrageous Irish temper comes to the surface again. But Michael’s retro-metamorphosis also has severe consequences when he’s back in London.
‘The Reckoning’ is a giant spitfire of highlights, one sequence even more powerful and intense than the next. Unforgettable moments include a Liverpool wrestling match and a party full of vainglorious guests at the Marler residence. And just when you think ‘The Reckoning’ can’t get anymore cooler, just wait until you witness the very last sequence. Mr. Marler is a truly unique persona, to say the least. The more employees he intimidates and the more women he seduces, the more you will cheer for him. Williamson, most known for supportive roles and stage plays, gives one of the most underrated performances in cinema history.
Arrogance, bitterness and despitefulness. A recipe for success?
While somehow partly advertised as a revenge-thriller (or unknowingly mistaken for it, based on plot synopsis), this really isn’t what ‘The Reckoning’ is all about. There’s a lot more going on, dramatically speaking, and the revenge aspect of the film is only covered in a small subplot (unless you take into consideration that the protagonist’s complete adult lifestyle is an act of vengeance against the society he was forced to grow up in). ‘The Reckoning’ first and foremost is a character study, and a fairly mean-spirited one at that too. At the base of the film, lies a well-written, thoughtfully constructed script firmly rooted in reality and the biggest assets of it are, undeniably, its memorable characters
Pretty much all of them have flawed personalities to some extent and the way they’re drawn out is simply impeccable. According to their significance in the plot, some characters are more developed than others, but all of them have very recognizable trademarks. These are far from the usual two-dimensional stereotypes we often see in mainstream cinema; we’re dealing with real people here in situations that feel very much grounded in real life. The events they get wrapped up in and their way of dealing with them feel authentic and the dramatic tension is ever present, really driving the film forward from one conflict to the next. It’s a testament to the storytelling talents of writer Patrick Hall, on whose novel ‘The Harp That Once’ the film was based, and the ability of screenwriter John McGrath to adapt the essence of characters and events into a screenplay format.
Star of the show is, without a doubt, Nicol Williamson. A very underrated British actor, in my opinion, as the few films I’ve seen him in, always had him playing supportive roles yet every time delivering memorable performances. And after you’ve seen him as Michael Marler in ‘The Reckoning’, you can’t help but wondering how come this guy didn’t play more leading roles. You’d reckon after this film for his acting career to take off as a rocket, landing him on the same pedestal as, let’s say, Michael Caine. But somehow, it didn’t.
At the surface, Michael Marler does seem like a rather black and white kind of character, with your basic “fuck all; I’m the man” attitude. But even right from the start, when the character is introduced in his loveless marriage, you instantly feel that there’s much more to his persona than the mere go-getter he turns out to be in his professional life (clearly an over-compensation for his private life’s frustrations and family background issues). And the complexity of his character is portrayed by Williamson with great nuance throughout the whole film.
Equally worth mentioning, is Ann Bell‘s portrayal of Michael’s wife, Rosemary. Bell‘s interactions with Williamson are great and she gives a splendid, well-balanced counterweight performance. Rosemary’s equally frustrated with her life and both bored and annoyed with Michael. She just loves to put him down whenever it suits her. Yet both of them use each other to ventilate their hatred and frustrations by means of… hard and steamy sex. Here we have a protagonist couple that have all the wealth and success one could have in this world, yet they are far, far from happy. To put it rather bluntly, they’re quite a good match, really. All this you learn in less than the first five minutes of the film’s opening sequence, with both Williamson and Bell displaying a keen awareness of the emotional depth of their characters. Rarely have I seen such a solid and downright to-the-point exposition of characters in any film.
And above all, the people in this film are human. They exist, come from different walks of life and changes are you’ve met people like these in real life at one point or another. Most of them have recognizable characteristics, to which you can either relate or revolt with spite and disapproval. How about something mundane like coming home from a party quite drunk, having the munchies and urge to start grilling some bacon? Or a mother whose main purpose in life was just to raise her children and care for her family? A sister who never strayed far from the parental nest, yet possesses better social skills and shows more human awareness than her brother who left for the city to take on the world and have a career? Or the angry businessman who’ll stop at nothing and applies devious tactics to secure a higher position in the corporate world? Cheating husbands and wives? Pretentious people at fancy parties that gossip and babble on about shit that doesn’t matter and wallow in their self-imposed fake prestige? You can check all that (and more) off the list; it’s all here in this film.
And the dual backdrop to all these events, is a greatly juxtaposed setting. On the one hand, we have the busy jet-set city life of London. It’s hectic, full of opportunities, yet infected with strains of dehumanization, stressful complications and underlying corruptness. Even the Marler residence, what initially should have been a safe haven of tranquility on the green outskirts of London, is home to the turbulent problems of a broken marriage. Then there’s Liverpool, and its hard-hitting setting is a mind-numbing portrayal of real life. We’re shown a city in decay, at some points literally in ruins even. The elderly people who’ve lived their whole lives their, have made their peace with it. The middle-aged generation have to cope with their disillusions of life. And the younger generation are faced with no future, no jobs and indulge in binge drinking and bar fights. Mind you, we are talking the late sixties here and the same Liverpool where The Beatles came from. Yes, you may very well consider ‘The Reckoning‘ a bleak (historical) reality check all the same. I’m pretty sure it was intended.
Final aspect that makes the film very much worthwhile: the dialogues. They are exquisite and the whole cast is just chewing them up. They are spot on and filled with sarcasm, cynicism and, well, a certain amount of demystifying, reality-based wisdom, I’d even daresay. It really feels as if writers Hall and McGrath were writing from experience. All this helps the events in the film to move along at a brisk pace, with, however, a few scenes offering some moments of a more light-contemplative nature. There’s a certain energetic rhythm to the whole film, something not uncommon in many British drama features originating from the sixties. But while more famous examples like, for instance, Michelangelo Antonioni‘s ‘Blow Up’ (1966) and Nicolas Roeg‘s ‘Performance’ (1969) had a more uneven pace with frantic outbursts, ‘The Reckoning’ pretty much maintains its energetic level throughout, albeit a bit down-toned in general, making up for a less artful but better equilibrated film. And the film ends on a great note too. It will surely put a grin on your face, but you’re still not sure if you’d want to root for Michael Marler or just love to see him fail miserably. For once, at least. Like I said, he’s a complex character. In a great film worthy of more recognition and exposure.
Full movie chopped into parts on YouTube.