During the pre-Thatcher Seventies, British filmmaker Mike Leigh (NAKED) honed his skills creating a number of small films for television, several of which were released to US home video in 1994. One of the weaker entries, THE KISS OF DEATH, which originally aired in 1977, is a realist
study of a rather unattractive group of young, working-class Britons.
In Manchester, apprentice undertaker Trevor (David Threlfall) tags along with his mate Ronnie (John Wheatley), much to the annoyance of Ronnie's girlfriend Sandra (Angela Curran). Trevor's a tall, gangling youth with a stiff, zombie-like walk, a stupid grin, and a nervous laugh. Hoping to get
rid of him, Sandra sets him up with Linda (Kay Adshead), a fiery, gum-snapping store clerk. Linda takes a genuine, amused interest in his profession, but he seems ambivalent; his courtship is halting, even clumsy. Linda tries gamely to bring him out, and he seems interested, but ultimately he
stands her up once too often, sparking a row in which he stands dumbly while she spits angry words at him. But after she sees Trevor help an old woman who's had a fall, Linda has a change of heart and invites him back to her place, where she again encourages him romantically. Their prolonged first
kiss is interrupted by Trevor's nervous involuntary laughter. They go to a disco on a double date with Ronnie and Sandra, but Trevor won't dance, so Linda dances with Ronnie, flirting with him both on the dance floor and afterwards in the car, trying to get Trevor jealous. Ronnie takes it much too
seriously, which angers Sandra, while Trevor hardly seems to care. The film concludes with Ronnie and Trevor reaching a nearly wordless detente, with the women--literally--out of the picture.
THE KISS OF DEATH is more a character study than a social document, but nothing Trevor does is given intelligible motivation, and Threlfall's performance is one step away from a bad Karloff impression. Even when showing kindness, he comes off as a brutish, ham-fisted goon. A tone of
condescension--unusual for Leigh--and reductive, allegorical supporting characters undermine the integrity of the story. The strength of the film is Kay Adshead, who delivers precisely modulated emotion, buoyed by aggressive, girlish charm. A few moments of superb filmmaking (such as a scene in
which Trevor has to deal with the corpse of an infant) hint at the director's nascent skill. On the whole, however, THE KISS OF DEATH is a failed experiment, more interesting to students of Leigh's work than entertaining for general audiences. (Profanity, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1977
- Rating: NR
- Review: During the pre-Thatcher Seventies, British filmmaker Mike Leigh (NAKED) honed his skills creating a number of small films for television, several of which were released to US home video in 1994. One of the weaker entries, THE KISS OF DEATH, which originall… (more)