Morality tale: Sam Riley and Andrea Riseborough are good in “Brighton Rock

Morality tale: Sam Riley and Andrea Riseborough are good in “Brighton Rock

‘Brighton Rock’: a sociopath and his true love

Writer-director Rowan Joffe engages in some provocative switcheroos in “Brighton Rock,” his adaptation of Graham Greene’s 1938 novel.

Greene’s story, about an amoral teenaged gangster and the waitress for whom he harbors a sociopathic mixture of tenderness and contempt, took place in the English seaside town of the 1930s.

Recalling The Who’s “Quadrophenia,” Joffe has set this hardboiled morality tale in 1960s Brighton, where Mods and Rockers are setting off a youthquake while old-school hoods duke it out on the beach below.

It’s a clever conceit, and there are times when Pinkie Brown — “Brighton Rock’s” repellent antihero — blends right in with both crowds as he dons a razor-sharp blue suit and steals a mirror-festooned motorcycle.

What’s more, he’s played here by Sam Riley, in a performance that often recalls his breakout role as Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis in “Control.” Like Curtis, Pinkie possesses a certain laconic magnetism and a penchant for skinny ties; but he isn’t nearly as talented, to which his impulsively ruthless rule of his tatty boardwalk empire attests.

The breakout in “Brighton Rock” is Andrea Riseborough, who plays Pinkie’s besotted love interest, Rose, a slightly dim, fatally naïve tea shop server who falls for Pinkie and won’t let anyone — including her well-meaning boss, played by a thin-lipped Helen Mirren — dissuade her. (Riseborough joins Shirley MacLaine in “Some Came Running” as one of the screen’s great martyred goddesses of self-abnegation.)

“Brighton Rock” was already adapted into a movie, in 1947, with Richard Attenborough in the lead role. It’s difficult to deny that Greene’s meditation on Catholic morality, devotion and self-deception wasn’t better served by that era’s relatively pared-down production values rather than Joffe’s stylized visuals and insistently foreboding musical score, a pastiche of somber choirs and thudding tympanies.

That over-muchness particularly hurts “Brighton Rock” at the windswept end of the affair, when the story’s highly pitched emotions call for restraint, above all else.

Still, there’s a lovely moment with Mirren and John Hurt that helps send “Brighton Rock” toward its final note of tenderness. With so much style to burn, Joffe handles the tinge of Greene-ian ambivalence just right.



Brighton Rock ★★½

  • Starring Sam Riley, Andrea Riseborough, Helen Mirren, John Hurt
  • Written and directed by Rowan Joffe
  • Not rated
  • Running time 1 hour 51 minutes
  • </ul>artsentertainmentfilmMoviesSan Francisco

    If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
    Find out more at

Just Posted

A San Francisco Unified School District program that gave would-be teachers extra training in the classroom has lost a key partner. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/2019 S.F. Examiner)</ins>
USF ends partnership with SFUSD in teacher residency program

District launched training effort to improve low retention rates for new hires

The Rev. Norman Fong of the Chinatown Community Development Center joined San Francisco city leaders and community partners in a “Campaign for Solidarity” at Civic Center Plaza on Saturday, Apr 17, 2021. (CraigLee/Special to the S.F. Examiner)
City launches ‘Campaign for Solidarity’ to combat racial violence

Mayor London Breed, the city’s Human Rights Commission and community leaders launched… Continue reading

It’s time to break the code of silence and end the stigmatism against infertility, which is fairly common. <ins>(Shuttterstock)</ins>
Struggles with infertility are common

We all can support friends, ask legislators to mandate sppropriate insurance

Foxes, aka Louisa Rose Allen, says she taken back control of her music in recent years. <ins>(Courtesy Hollie Fernando)</ins>
Foxes back with ‘Friends in the Corner’

Pop star doing a lot ‘behind the scene’ since 2016

Former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs spoke to San Francisco’s new Guaranteed Income Advisory Group on April 16. (Courtesy SFGOV)
City launches task force to explore Universal Basic Income programs

San Francisco on Friday launched a guaranteed income task force that could… Continue reading

Most Read