Recent years may have seen John Hurt take his place as one of the elder statesmen of British cinema, but back in the 1970s he was still best known for his television and stage work, the latter seeing him cast as the eponymous character of Little Malcolm and His Struggles Against the Eunuchs at London’s Garrick Theatre.
That was in 1965 but it would take a further nine years for David Halliwell’s play to make it to the big screen, mainly thanks to the efforts of George Harrison who saw merit in the political and sexual intricacies of the script.
Hurt returned as Malcolm Scrawdyke, recently made an “ex-student” having been booted out of art college and left to wallow in his room. Initially depicted as something of an Everyman contemplating getting out of bed on a bleak winter’s day, Malcolm soon mutates into something far less likeable as his political leanings are brought to the fore when his sexual prowess is thrown into doubt.
Surrounded by lackeys who aren’t entirely sure why they’re agreeing to join his newly formed Party of Dynamic Erection, a fascistic organisation whose ideals are made up to suit any given situation, Malcolm has an opportunity to divert his energy into a relationship with Anne (Rosalind Ayres), but he instead veers off into more dangerous territory.
Hurt is a powerful presence as the repressed Malcolm, his speeches to both his followers and to himself showing how easy it is to convince oneself that wrong is right, but there’s equally strong support from John McEnery, Raymond Platt and David Warner as Dennis Nipple.
Describing Little Malcolm as “Last of the Summer Wine meets Downfall” may not be completely accurate, but a sequence involving the Erectionists plotting a kidnap while wearing old vests over their heads, which segues into a frighteningly believable interrogation of McEnery’s Wick, encapsulates the humour and the horror that director Stuart Cooper manages to balance.
Mention must also go to Ayres, whose character weaves in and out of the story before becoming a key part of the shocking climax.
Little Malcolm is an odd little film which manages to both mock and highlight the dangers of disaffected youth, something as relevant today as it was almost 40 years ago.
Winning the Silver Bear at Berlin in 1975, Little Malcolm subsequently fell out of sight, meaning the BFI Flipside’s decision to issue it on DVD and Blu-ray is a welcome one. Restored from the original negative, the film looks and sounds as good as new, with two short films, Put Yourself in My Place (1974) and The Contraption (1977) offered as extras.