Girl Stroke Boy - Girl Stroke Boy(Blu Ray) [Powerhouse - 2021]
Girl Stroke Boy is a blu ray release from Powerhouse, collecting up the 1971 film in HD with some assorted - and good - extras; unfortunately I am only reviewing a promo disc so I can’t speak to the overall packaging, but as the satisfied owner of several Powerhouse releases I can confidently assume a high quality. The plot of Girl Stroke Boy is actually very simple: a white middle-class couple receive their son (Laurie) home for the weekend, with him finally unveiling his first girlfriend (Jo), however on arrival the parents are confused and troubled by the androgynous, West Indian Jo, with the mother passing her husband a note reading, ‘Is it a man?’
This simple premise is wound up to hysteria, as the parents fret, conspire, and argue over Jo, with the added dramatic intrigues of their house turning against them: the heating is jammed on to tropical levels, causing doors to stick shut. So the film is a farce, a comedy of manners, somewhat akin to a more socially frenzied but nuanced Keeping Up Appearances - and indeed Patricia Routledge, the star of that series, plays a minor role in Girl Stroke Boy. Whilst the film is a comedy, it’s actually very tense, with the parents in a state of nervous agitation, drenched in sweat, ratcheting up to a climax that suddenly breaks open.
Girl Stroke Boy has the dramatic feel and dynamics of a stage play - and indeed is based on a play called Girlfriend by David Percival - with most of the film located in one house, and plenty of quick fire dialogue - especially between the parents where it accumulates a dizzying, madcap intensity. The parents, played by Joan Greenwood and Michael Hordern, are both glorious: Greenwood’s mother is a snobby bourgeois matriarch who views herself as a pioneer of liberal thinking but in reality is a reactionary figure who refuses to let Laurie grow up; Hordern’s father is a figure equally confounded by Jo but willing to learn and grow for the sake of Laurie’s happiness, he’s also constantly exasperated by his wife’s insistence that he say things that she does not want to be seen saying, as a liberal pioneer. Laurie (Clive Francis) and Jo (Peter Straker) are both played well as bohemian hippy lovers, though it would be fair to say that Greenwood and Hordern get all the best lines. Straker, known at the time as a singer, plays Jo very unaffectedly, and indeed one of the extras, an interview with Straker, records that the director Bob Kellet wanted Jo and Laurie depicted as just a couple in love, without rhetorical devices, innuendos, or ‘forced’ acting.
Girl Stroke Boy is very witty and dry, and as this relies on having a grasp of the characters in the film, it perhaps takes a while to get going, but as I write these words I’m really aware of just how funny it was, and how much I want to watch it again. Greenwood and Hordern are tremendous, with many laugh-out-loud moments from the pair - Hordern wrestling with doors, or finding excuses to leave the room, Greenwood loudly insisting, ‘I don’t have tits - I have breasts!’ - whilst Francis and Straker both perform perfect foils to the increasingly deranged parents. Routledge’s minor role presages her Hyacinth Bucket character, and there’s also rather undeveloped roles for Elisabeth Welch and the always marvellous Randolph Walker as Jo’s parents. There is nothing visually remarkable in the film, except for a very stylised black and white sequence where Jo and Laurie frolic in the snow, but the use of props in the house is notably detailed and effective. However, Girl Stroke Boy is ultimately a vehicle for a brilliant script, delivered brilliantly by brilliant actors.
For extras, Powerhouse have included ‘As Simple as That,’ an interview with Straker which offers insight into the filming, as well as Jo’s character; Straker is effortlessly charming and recalls the film with great love. There’s also a very lengthy 2018 British Entertainment History Project interview with John Scott, the composer of the soundtrack, offering details from his far-ranging career - Charles Mingus was not a nice man, Henry Mancini was a joy to be around - as well as a short film, Ahead of Its Time, featuring the film historian Alex Davison, who contextualises Girl Stroke Boy in its time, praising it as an ultimately joyful film. Last, and unfortunately least, is A Couple of Beauties (1972), a short comedy film starring the Manchester-based female impersonator Bunny Lewis; I was excited about this, as it also stars James Beck and Pat Coombs - and indeed a very small role for Bernard Manning - but it’s somewhat painful viewing: a sub-Carry On farce without charm or any jokes. It’s historically interesting, perhaps, but only complimentary to Girl Stroke Boy in the sense that it makes you appreciate the feature film more.
Girl Stroke Boy is itself historically significant, as a film treating LGBTQ characters as joyful, ‘real’ people without stereotype or innuendo at a time when this was rare, and Powerhouse point to Jo as ‘British cinema’s first gay leading role to be played by a black actor.’ I wholeheartedly recommend the film to you as a hysterical, in both senses, look at the tortured hypocrisies of the English bourgeoisie, with superb acting and dialogue so packed that it will reward repeated viewings. A genuine pleasure to watch.Martin P