Before he found fame with 1966’s Born Free, James Hill was a jobbing director doing trade films, documentaries and TV plays like this little gem from the pen of John Mortimer from 1961, starring Shirley Anne Field and Robert Stephens.
Women’s liberation seems a long way off here as Field’s character, an artist working for a company making wallpaper, is drawn as a mere plaything for her chauvinistic male work colleagues. When the doe-eyed beauty falls for the geeky charms of Robert Stephens’ unhappily married character, the couple embark on a secret romance sneaking off to various discreet places during their lunch break: including the cinema, an art gallery, London’s Embankment Gardens and finally a hotel room.
It’s at this final location where things turn a little weird as a kitchen sink melodrama is then played out. The two characters begin acting out the lie that the man (Stephens) has concocted in order to secure the room. The couple are married, with two kids. She lives in Scarborough, while he has ‘digs’ in London. But as they play out their ‘story’, hidden truths about their personalities come to the fore – destroying the sexual tension that obviously brought them together in the first place.
This play within a play is a bit wordy, but if you want to experience some quality writing (Mortimer supposedly wrote this during his own marital crisis) then you must seek this out. My favourite scene is hearing a waitress (played by Vi Stevens) utter the phrase ‘Beaujolais? Wouldn’t know. Never touch it’ – certainly shades of Little Britain’s Carole, here. Also, the brilliant Kay Walsh steals the show as a hotel manageress.
The extras on the new BFI Flipside release includes three trade productions Hill directed for BP, one of which ‘Home Made Car’ features music from The Prisoner’s Ron Grainer, while the others are masterful exercises in editing and the use of colour in film.
Lunch Hour is a BFI Dual Format release.