Rowan Joffe has stepped up to a long shadow in adapting Graham Greene's novel of gang crime on the south coast. The shadow is the Boulting Brothers' noirish 1947 film of the book, and in particular Richard Attenborough's great portrayal of the knife-wielding Catholic wrong 'un Pinkie.
Joffe's decision to shift the timeframe to the early 1960s of mods and rockers is bold and imaginative, at once distancing the mood from its postwar black-and-white predecessor and fixing it squarely in an era when generational tensions were coming to a head: teenagers had arrived, and the oldsters were running scared. His picture of Brighton – once described by Keith Waterhouse as a town that looked as if it were helping the police with their enquiries – is one of dingy boarding-houses and sinister gaiety, though most of it was filmed in Eastbourne, its less spoilt neighbour along the coast. The plot concerns Pinkie's murderous rise through the local underworld and his co-opting of meek waitress Rose into marriage, thus ensuring her silence as a witness for potential prosecution. As Rose, Andrea Riseborough is exceptionally touching; as Pinkie, Sam Riley has the right whippety-lean look, though lacks the cold-eyed malignancy of the character. They have one outstanding scene together, when Rose begs Pinkie to make a recording of his voice in a pierside booth ("I know you want me to say 'I love you...'") and the camera catches the poignant facial contrast of her adoration and his loathing. It even surpasses the same scene in the Attenborough film – the only time it does. Joffe's film nods to the novel's twisted Catholicism but never conveys that insidious mood of evil, and the plot's action, particularly in its last third, feels terribly creaky. Helen Mirren brings a touch of tattered class to the part originally inhabited by Hermione Baddeley.