The BFI Mediatheque Volunteers’ Film Club was created as a result of a meeting between the volunteers, Carolyn Ball (Archives & Records Services Manager), Lauren Prince (Culture Track Project Co-ordinator) and myself. The volunteers wanted to have greater ownership and involvement with BFI Mediatheque and the group thought that a Volunteers’ Film Club was the ideal way to achieve this.
The group met in May to review and discuss The Optimists of Nine Elms, starring Peter Sellers. The film was Malcolm Hunter’s choice and something of a favourite of his. The Optimists of Nine Elms is a gentle story about two children and their relationship with Sam, an old man who is a busker (played by Peter Sellers) and his faithful dog companion, Bella.
The film was one of Peter Sellers’ own personal favourites and Malcolm had some interesting facts about his approach to the role. Malcolm informed the group that Sellers based his accent on an old music hall entertainer called Wilfred Pickles. Sellers’ parents were music hall entertainers and he was a child entertainer himself. Malcolm went on to say that Sellers actually thought he was channelling the spirit of another music hall entertainer called Dan Leno during his performance as Sam.
Although Malcolm is something of an expert on the film, some of the group had never seen or even heard of it before, including myself. Nevertheless, it got a good response from everyone. Sam Trounson summed it up as “a wonderful mix of farce, comedy and tragedy”.
For such a gentle film, The Optimists of Nine Elms looked at some quite big themes, such as family, friendship, and the hopes, dreams and aspirations of childhood.
Comparing the roles of Sam and the children’s father, it was thought that Sam almost became a replacement father for the children. The children didn’t see much of their real father because he was always working, albeit for a good reason which was to afford a better house for the family.
The parents were practical but didn’t have any big dreams. At the end, Sam reminds the father that looking after children isn’t just about “filling their bellies with bread and butter” but also about “filling their heads with bread and butter” – that is, letting them have dreams, use their imagination and have adventures. This is a valuable lesson for the father to learn.
Although a few actors were in the running for the role, the group agreed that Peter Sellers was the perfect choice to play Sam.
The group thought the ending was moving (the children give their dog to Sam to replace Bella when she dies) and semi-happy. Hopefully, the dog will give the children an excuse to keep visiting Sam.
The next film the Volunteers’ Film Club will watch is When I’m 64, and the group will get together to discuss it in June. Everyone is enjoying the opportunity to watch some gems in BFI Mediatheque and to be budding film critics. Move over, Barry Norman!