The Optimists Of Nine Elms

The Optimists Of Nine Elms is a lovely picture. Yes, it’s long and may be, some would say, slow, but I still like it. It gives you a good feel of the time it was made. This really is the London of nearly 40 years ago. Scruffy, yes, ugly in places, yes, but with real character. It’s also a moving story without being too sentimental. Bella, Sam Hall’s rather cute dog is adorable and it makes it more heartbreaking when she dies.
Peter Sellers, playing Sam Hall, gives in my opinion one of his best performances of the 1970’s, Being There and The Pink Panther Strikes Again being the other two. It’s interesting to think that Sellers was not the first choice. Director/co-writer Tony Simmons had in the mid-1960’s planned the film as a vehicle for the great American comic Buster Keaton. If one thinks back to Chaplin’s Limelight and Keaton’s performance in that, it makes perfect sense. Simmons could not get Keaton insured so the film fell through. In the early 1970’s Sir John Mills was lined up to star, only to break his leg. Another American Danny Kaye was interested but not available to do it. Sellers was then offered the part and fell in love with it. He claimed to be inhabited by the ghost of the long-dead music hall star Dan Leno while playing this part. Some of Sam Hall’s comic lines in his voice-overs were genuine Leno lines. 
The child actors are good and work well with Sellers. The score by George Martin is great and the spoof music hall songs by Martin and Lionel Bart are terrific, very much evoking the real songs they parody. One mistake in geography though:  Sam visits the inside of Chelsea Football Club, but the outside of Fulham Football Club (note the graffiti and the park, which is next to FFC) is shown. But all in all The Optimists really is a sweet little movie, I’d get it on DVD given half the chance.

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