Gritty Revenge Meets Kitchen Sink Drama In Jack Gold’s Forgotten Classic “The Reckoning”

The Reckoning is a perfect slice of British realism with the gritty styling and raw energy often associated with more recognisable examples of the genre. Like its bedfellow Get Carter (which was released two years later), the film features a similarly powerhouse performance from its lead, forgotten man Nicol Williamson.

Pre-dating Get Carter by a couple of years, The Reckoning is a gritty bedfellow for that particular tale of revenge, boasting a similarly powerhouse performance from its male lead. There are other recognisable traits evident between the two films apart from thematic conceit despite the fact one disappeared into obscurity while the other flourished as one of the greats. That could be said of the film’s leading men too. Michael Caine, one of British cinema’s biggest names and a Hollywood legend, and Nicol Williamson, a man once described “the greatest actor since Marlon Brando”, largely forgotten in contemporary circles, his career dogged by a fiery personality that often threw a wedge between himself and his fellow performers. The fortunes of their careers somewhat mimic the fortunes of these two British cinema classics.

The Reckoning sees Williamson’s Michael Marler return home to find his father dying from a heart attack. He learns that before his death he was involved in an altercation with a gang of young men. Marler finds bruises on his father’s body leading him to quiz an acquaintance who reveals the culprit. Ravaged by a sense of honour, Marler is at first eager to get the police involved, knowing his father’s death was not the result of natural causes detailed by the coroner, but later accepts no witnesses will come forward, their suspicions of authority making police involvement obsolete. If justice is to be done, he’ll have to make it happen himself.

In many ways, The Reckoning is a more authentic piece of work when comparisons are made to Get Carter; certainly in respect of capturing the zeitgeist of the period. The well-known revenge film that came two years later remains a brilliant representation of anti-heroics on a stage doused in northern grime, but has a debt to convention. The Reckoning is very much a product of the 1960s, channelling the machinations of the swinging decade as it comes to its close, premising the more nihilistic seventies as the excesses of previous years prove there are debts to pay. Moreover, the film is not singularly concentrated on revenge as Marler’s life is drawn with a defined line between the north and south; the geographical divide delineating the working class past he left behind in the less affluent coastal city of Liverpool and the prosperous middle class existence he discovered in London.

That’s certainly where comparisons with Get Carter get a muddier distinction. The Reckoning is less concerned with Marler’s efforts to discover the thug who beat-up his Dad, rather the emotional kick he receives as a result of re-entering the life he once led in his hometown. The grotty terrace he grew up on with its cramped living space contrasts with the opulent detached multi-bedroom home he’s made for himself in London. He’s a man who eagerly left that old world behind to find riches and professional satisfaction elsewhere. His father’s death reminds him of who he once was, and there’s a sense he’s grappling with an indeterminate middle ground as his ambitions, motivations, desires and fears enter a state of flux.

It’s a terrific representation of that kitchen sink realism that developed in British cinema in the 1950s, and the angry young men who have to come to terms with the real and perceived traumas of domestic life. Marler’s a fascinating case study; aided by Nicholson’s twinkly-eyed bravura cloaking an animalistic rage that emerges as both aggression and sexual fetish. Nicholson’s performance is subtle and raw, his actions a natural and compelling depiction of life – both professional and personal – coming apart at the seams. Perhaps most interesting is how his father’s death reminds him how his life in London has become a performance in itself; the smartly dressed sales manager with the trophy car, house and wife all conspiring to characterise Marler’s “new life” over his old one.

It’s on his return to his hometown that the life he eagerly wanted to escape rekindles his appreciation of a heritage almost completely lost. Indeed, he’d hidden his Irish roots from his London employers until the tragedy of his father results in drunken debauchery during an upscale party at his affluent abode. He proceeds to punch a colleague while serenading the shocked guests with a rebellious anti-British song. It is perhaps the moment when Marler realises he’s forgotten the value of his upbringing, for better and for worse.

The Reckoning is a perfect slice of British realism with the gritty styling and raw energy often associated with more recognisable examples of the genre. It shares some similarities with Get Carter but isn’t purely focused on revenge, its character study representative of a man thrust back into the world he wilfully escaped. With some fine performances supporting director Jack Gold’s efforts, the film deserves a stage from which it can be appreciated.

arrival, film review, five stars

Written by Dan Stephens

Directed by: Jack Gold
Written by: John McGrath
Starring: Nicol Williamson, Ann Bell, Tom Kempinski
Released: 1970 / Genre: Revenge Drama
Country: USA / IMDB

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Top 10 Films reviewed The Reckoning courtesy of Powerhouse Films which released the film on DVD and Blu-ray on August 28, 2017

Powerhouse Films’ Dual Format DVD/Blu-ray sees The Reckoning available on DVD & Blu-ray for the first time in the UK

This limited edition run of 3,000 copies makes available a film largely unattainable for years. That’ll please fans while bringing those interested in the British kitchen sink drama and those films made in the UK between 1950 and 1975 a new film to enjoy. The high definition master with original audio preserves The Reckoning’s technical qualities while an array of additional features enhance the experience of seeing this film. I was particularly pleased with the “Culture Clash” interview with writer, journalist and broadcaster Matthew Sweet who discusses The Reckoning’s historical relevance, the part it plays in British cinema of the period, and why it its a product of its time.

Other features include a limited edition exclusive 32-page booklet with a new essay by Michael Pattison, Jack Gold on The Reckoning, Kenneth Tynan on actor Nicol Williamson, and an overview of contemporary critical responses; Memories of Marler, a new interview with actor Tom Kempinski; On Your Marks, a new interview with second assistant director Joe Marks, the original theatrical trailer, and an image gallery. There are also new English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.

Dan Stephens
About the Author
Dan Stephens is the founder and editor of Top 10 Films. He's usually pondering his next list, often inspired by his adoration for 1980s Hollywood, a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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