by Rita Aresta
The story of Letter To Brezhnev (1985) begins with two Scouse friends, Elaine (Alexandra Pigg), an unemployed, bored young woman, and Teresa (Margi Clark), who works in a poultry factory and is no stranger to drinking and casual sex; both are keen to spend an unforgettable night out in town. A Soviet ship has just docked at the city port and two Soviet sailors, Peter (Peter Firth) and Sergei (Alfred Molina), recognise it as home to The Beatles and roam the city sights. Despite speaking only a minimal amount of English, they manage to meet the girls at a nightclub, and after spending a few unforgettable hours together, Elaine and Peter feel an immeasurable attraction for one another and fall in love. However, their separation is inevitable, since Peter must depart with the ship; they say their goodbyes and vow to meet again, but time passes and Elaine doesn’t hear from Peter again. Unable to forget him, frustrated by the Cold War and its Iron Curtain that stand between her and the man she loves, and encouraged by Teresa, she writes a letter to the no less than the General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, Leonid Brezhnev, asking him to make it possible for them to reunite, as she believes she’s being prevented from doing so by the British authorities.
The relationship between the two English girls and their Soviet sailors serves as pretext for what somewhat is a dark comedy with bitter, dramatic nuances which, to some extent, promises more than what it does deliver. While it manages to create a strong atmosphere of everyday working class mediocrity that’s truly believable and possesses some degree of charming human warmth, it remains somewhat underwhelming and I struggled to fall in love with it myself.
Produced by Palace Pictures/Film Four International, written by well-known Liverpudlian writer Frank Clarke (The Fruit Machine, Brookside) and directed by fellow native Chris Bernard (Boobah, Shooting Stars), this romantic drama with strong political and social undertones does a good job of showing us that “free” life in the West wasn’t all we are led to believe. Biased as it may be by not depicting life in the Soviet Union in the film, we’re told that there are employment opportunities there. It may as well be Elaine’s own El Dorado with its promise of a new start in a happy life; such romantic notions of life in the Soviet Union were by no means rare at the time, especially in a place such as the early 80s depressed Liverpool. In a way, this film is almost communist propaganda in the way it shows us how the British government built its own propaganda against the Soviet Union.
The performances from the four leads are realistic, nonetheless, with a decent balance between positive and negative emotion portrayals; the camera work is skilful and the soundtrack is a remarkably good fit for dreary early 80s Liverpool. Despite its premise, its fast pace and in-your-face honesty prevent it from turning into a soppy love story. It’s reasonably true to the time and location of its setting – although knowing how the Soviet Union handled certain matters back in the day, I somewhat doubt the regime would’ve let those two guys go ashore in England…and I likewise doubt Mr. Brezhnev would’ve been particularly pleased with this film, Elaine’s letter and Peter the sailor, who’d all probably end up in the good old “Glavnoye Upravleniye LAGerej” (the Gulag, y’all).
Letter To Brezhnev will be released by the BFI on Blu-Ray (for the first time) and DVD on 24th April 2017.
Pictures courtesy of: BFI, www.margiclark.com