Tuesday 30 July 2019

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 52. The Whisperers

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

The Whisperers
Director - Bryan Forbes
Country - UK
Year 1967
Runtime - 106 minutes

Loneliness amongst the elderly is an ever relevant concern for our aging society and it has been a prevalent consternation throughout modern British history. It is a recurring theme for film-makers to explore the isolation of older generations but none have encapsulated the pervading sense of fear this conjures up as brilliantly as Bryan Forbes with his stark and haunting drama, The Whisperers. This intriguing title is a reference to the quiet voices that an old lady hears in her ground floor apartment. Are the whispers coming from her neighbours or are they a figment of a delusional imagination that longs for yet, conversely, seems to shy away from company?

Edith Evans stars as Maggie Ross, a fragile elderly lady who separated from her husband Archie (Eric Portman) many years ago and clings on to the hope of receiving financial aid from the sale of her late father's estate. She lives alone in poverty and fear, surviving on handouts from the Social Services and frequenting the police station to voice her concerns about the ominous whisperings which she believes are coming from people who are spying on her.

Maggie's sad and troubling existence is interrupted only by the occasional calls from her criminal son, Charlie (Ronald Fraser), who we see stashing a wad of notes in her spare room during one such visit. A room crowded with old books and newspapers that Maggie refuses to dispose of. Upon discovering the notes, she believes her fortunes have changed but the cruel actions of strangers who take advantage of her, and the return of her troublesome husband Archie, serve to derail any hopes she has of overcoming her sorrowful station in life.

This bleak and harrowing drama features a tour de force performance from Edith Evans that saw her nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. Evans demonstrates Maggie's constant confusion with ease, bringing a gentleness and frailty to the role that has you empathising with her predicament from very early on, as well as leaving you wondering why she didn't come away with the Oscar. There is only one person in Maggie's life who genuinely seems to care for her wellbeing; Mr Conrad (Gerald Sim), an attentive Civil Servant who shows an interest in her situation and provides us with faith in the systems in place to protect the interests of the poverty-stricken elderly. However, Mr Conrad doesn't have the time or capability to support Maggie with all of her woes, particularly when she falls ill and is unable to care for herself, and with no-one to rely on she risks coming to serious harm.

The rubbish-laden streets surrounding Maggie's apartment can be considered an extension of her
unsafe living conditions. Conditions that are worsened by her need for new shoes and her inability to afford any. Forbes captures this state of disrepair when he sets the scene at the start of the film as various animals rummage through the litter in the streets. These are lone animals and rodents, unwanted by society and struggling to survive in a hostile and unfriendly environment. To compare Maggie in such a way is unkind but Forbes message is clear, there is an inherent problem in how a disproportionate amount of the populace are willing to disregard the elderly and their needs.

Forbes crafted a number of exceptional, quintessential British films in his illustrious career and deserves to be recognised for his outstanding contribution to cinema. This alarming portrayal of a frail old lady pushed to her limits is a highlight of his filmography and undoubtedly had an influence on the kitchen-sink realism of directors such as Mike Leigh and Ken Loach. The honest and hard-hitting nature of Forbes approach makes for a thought-provoking and revealing drama that refuses to shy away from the upsetting issues surrounding this sensitive subject.

The Whisperers is a fascinating study of old age and the tribulations that befall those without the support of a caring network of family or friends. It is a devastating but important picture that shines a light on an aspect of society that remains relevant today. The depressing subject matter requires a certain state of mind to endure but Forbes weaves this bleak notion into an enthralling and poignant story that is fully deserving of your attentive gaze. This overlooked British classic is waiting patiently to be rediscovered so don't leave it languishing in the past like the travesty of poor Mrs Ross who is abandoned by those around her. The astonishing central performance from Edith Evans is worthy of your time alone but I am certain that other aspects of this beautifully realised film will resonate in a manner that leaves you contemplating the importance of family.

If you take the time to watch The Whisperers then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!

For previous instalments in the series click here

1 comment:

  1. Not only Edith Evans but everyone who walked onscreen was terrific. this has got to be one of the best acted movies I've ever seen. I liked everything about this movie.