I’m starting to count! (1969)
Director: David Greene
Actors: Jenny Agutter, Bryan Marshall, Claire Sutcliffe
Duration: 105 minutes
Release Date: April 19, 2021
Jamie Havlin reviews a late 1960s British cult classic shot in Bracknell with Jenny Agutter in the lead role.
As the opening credits roll, we see a figure in a bed covered in sheets. The camera circles the room, dwelling on significant details: a school uniform draped over a chair; rosary; homework; a stuffed bunny and a Popeye alarm clock that will soon wake up Wynne Kinch (Jenny Agutter).
The start to Wynne’s day and her preschool ritual is far from remarkable. What is remarkable is the song that accompanies its introduction. The composition of Basil Kirchin I Start Counting is utterly charming, one of the most captivating themes of any British film of the time. With the voice provided by Lindsey Moore, a singer in her early teens, it’s easy to imagine that it’s Wynne herself singing.
Almost fifteen years old, Wynne is adopted and lives with her new family – her mother, grandfather and two older brothers George and Len – in a high-rise apartment in Bracknell (here renamed Dalstead) at a time when the development of new concrete cities was viewed with optimism. . Mom thinks they live “in a palace” and when Wynne looks out her bedroom window, Bracknell certainly looks far from brutalist, with lots of trees and greenery punctuating the housing estate below.
Real darkness has descended on the city, however. A group of schoolchildren foam pebbles on the water, oblivious to the body of a dead girl submerged by the pond. A maniacal killer is on the run and strikes again in a park just minutes from the now abandoned house where the Kinch family once lived.
Wynne is warned not to visit the area by her mother and is also ordered not to go out alone at night, with the message immediately reinforced by George (Bryan Marshall). Despite the age gap – he’s thirty-two – and the fact that he’s his adopted brother, Wynne is desperately infatuated with him, which his bubbly girlfriend Corinne likes to reproach him with regularly.
With a fertile imagination and voyeuristic tendencies, Wynne had spied on George that morning while he was washing and was pissed off by three long scratches on the side of his back. Later, as he drove her to school, she was curious enough to see him surreptitiously hiding a wrapped package in a trash can to investigate later. She found a sweater she once knitted for him smeared with what might be blood.
Why does George spend his Friday nights putting up shelves for the elderly ex-neighbor Mrs. Bennett when her house is due to be demolished in the coming weeks? And why does he explode with rage when he stumbles upon his younger brother’s diary album on the murders?
Despite the warnings, Wynne visits her old neighborhood. She is not a new town, Nancy Drew, but finds out via Mrs. Bennett that George regularly lies about her whereabouts.
Could the man of her dreams be the manic killer?
In a cafe in their local shopping district, Wynne and Corinne discuss boys, or more precisely men. Corinne is six months older than Wynne and her hems are always a few inches higher. Highly competitive, if her best mate can potentially have a relationship with a man in his 30s, then Corinne feels the need to want an even older man to take her order.
Wynne persuades Corinne to accompany him to the old house. In a complete state of disrepair, Wynne bizarrely claims to want to clean it up before it’s bulldozed, but once inside she instead holds some sort of session where she supposedly summons the spirit of the bride. deceased of George. By all accounts, this is a bad taste idea that also goes against his religious beliefs. Adopted into a family of non-Catholics, she attended a Catholic school and regularly attended mass and confession.
So what does this loving teenage girl do when she suspects her adopted brother has broken the fifth commandment “You shall not kill”?
Answer: She tries to cover up any evidence that could incriminate her, such as throwing the sweater she collected earlier into a furnace, continues to fantasize about marrying him, while stepping up her spy missions.
Wynne is far from a one-dimensional character. She is very sympathetic, although she can be annoying and even cruel – she confesses to a priest that she is sometimes happy that George’s former fiancÃ©e died in an accident.
Jenny Agutter gives a highly confident performance, deftly conveying a complex range of emotions. She even convinces like a drunk for the first time, which couldn’t have been easy considering her age. Bryan Marshall excels too, and the awkward chemistry between the two is perfect.
I’m starting to count! failed to set the box office on fire and critics were divided on its merits. Due to its combination of coming-of-age drama and serial killer flick, the Observer complained that he “never completely decides what to do.” The Financial Times, meanwhile, praised the director, saying “Greene can do almost as much with a new English town as Godard does with Paris.”
By comparing, I start to count! with films like Breathless and Band of Outsiders could have been generous, but Bracknell undeniably provides an intriguing backdrop and Greene expertly captures the city on the move with houses being demolished just as other buildings appear, and the hexagonal-shaped skyscraper where the family life is a truly memorable piece of architecture.
Available on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK, this is the 42nd release in the British Film Institute’s Flipside series. It is one of the best to date.
Among the extras included in this release are new interviews with Jenny Agutter and screenwriter Richard Harris; an interview with Jonny Trunk on music pioneer Basil Kirchin; a video essay on the film; an audio commentary by film historian Samm Deighan; additional films from the BFI National Archives and, at the first pressing only, an illustrated booklet.
To learn more about the version, click here.
All of Jamie Havlin’s words. Other writings of Jamie can be found in the archives of its author Louder Than War.