by Geoffrey Churchman

The setting — the bureaucracy of the London County Council, even if 70 years ago in 1953 — naturally appeals for those well aware of how local government works, or doesn’t work. Another aspect is the fact that the movie got two Oscar nominations — for Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.

The start of the movie shows an actual promo film from that time, which features a lot more black cars than you may have thought, as well as the red double deck buses; then we see the reenactment, with LCC bureaucrats at the then semi-country train station in Surrey: bowler hats, rolled up brollies and three-piece suits were de rigueur and there is a formality between the manager and the lower ranks to be observed. Everyone is referred to by the titles of Mr, Mrs or Miss.

At the office, instead of computers on the desks there are stacks of paper files — “skyscrapers” — which make everyone look busy.

A delegation of three women show up with a petition to build a neighborhood playground in a lot that looks to have been bombed out in WW2, and is only filled with overflowing sewerage.

“No, that’s not for the Works Department,” they get told, “Go to Parks.” They protest that they did and waited for hours, only to be told it was for Planning and then Works. Sounds familiar in Kapiti? 🙂

But this isn’t a council version of Yes Minister, rather the Department Head, Mr Williams (Bill Nighy) is the central character as he visits the doctor and is told that he has the big C and can only expect to live another six months. This prompts a rethink of everything on his part — he decides he hasn’t lived properly till now and heads off for a few days on the south coast (Brighton?) to compensate. Fortunately he meets a sympathetic local man in a cafeteria who shows him the nightlife, such as it is in what was a repressed society.

After three days he goes back to London but is reluctant to tell anyone the news (including his son and daughter in law). The first person he confides in is a young fellow office worker, Margaret Harris (Aimee Lou Wood) with whom he seeks and gets a platonic companionship, including after she leaves for what she thinks is an assistant manager role in a nearby cafe/salon de thé, but is just waitressing. Williams invites Margaret Harris to the upmarket Fortnums for a proper nosh-up.

Eventually, the inevitable happens but there is some impact on the thinking of the office members — they can’t continue to mess the public around when they can do something speedily. The playground gets built.

That pretty much is the storyline; obviously characterisation is the main emphasis of the film. Bill Nighy delivers, and there is little to be faulted about the other cast members. It provides a useful look into the nature of British society at the time and he inevitable comparisons with what exists now.

It’s a movie that many public servants will appreciate.

Living (102 minutes) is screening at the Shoreline.