Unlikely to get made in today’s market for more reasons than just profit, A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg remains a tough, uncompromising, shining beacon of normality for the inspired, unjaded and intellectually inquiring film fan.
In the space of eight years Peter Medak made three classics. There were others but these particular ones have stood the test of time, remaining pertinent, abrasive, challenging and darker than pitch. A Day In The Death of Joe Egg is one, The Ruling Class another and finally his horror The Changeling. Both former films threatened traditional social thinking and acceptable themes within cinema, while the latter influenced numerous movies after release. Of them all though Medak’s work with Alan Bates and Janet Suzman in A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg is perhaps the most uncompromising, finding humour through disability, pathos within a loveless union and heartbreak between the silences of everything left unsaid.
Adapted from the Peter Nichols play A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg has all the immediacy, cinematic savvy and cut throat caustic humour which gained it a certificate X upon initial release. Usually given as a scare tactic to entice crowds through the door, the film is more deserving than most of this age restriction; not for any amount of nudity but purely based on the themes under discussion. Medak has no patience with sweetening the pill here, translating Nichols’ unforgiving dialogue straight to screen with little desire to tone down the message.
Alan Bate’s Bri builds barricades of sarcasm, tasteless and tactless taunts giving his humour a bitter yet whimsical quality, which verges on vaudeville before disarming us with emotion. Suzman’s Sheila is the perfect tag team partner as they experience peaks and troughs of optimism and hopelessness over little more than a few days of screen time. Medak uses a combination of location work, varying film stocks and camera manipulation to draw you in. Splitting the action between minimal locations A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg remains solely about performance and no one embraces their chance more than Alan Bates. At once lethargic, manic, savagely comedic yet crushingly emotive, Bri can find no solace, suffers no censorship and is appallingly unsympathetic. Joan Hickson and Peter Bowles offer admirable support but this dressing down of NHS issues and euthanasia debates still wields a forty pound sledgehammer subtlety forty five years on.
Using flashback, direct to camera acknowledgement and vivid flights of fantasy, Medak disorientates, disarms and deconstructs this stage-bound diatribe with care. Continual close ups add to the intrusive quality which aids the film in being such an unsettling watch. With so much to say, so much being said and no respite worth speaking of, it pays dividends to pay attention. Looks and gestures and moments of wince-inducing emotional resonance are juxtaposed with the darkest joke ever committed to celluloid. There is more under attack in this hour and forty minutes than most modern movies manage in double that time. Unlikely to get made in today’s market for more reasons than just profit, A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg remains a tough, uncompromising, shining beacon of normality for the inspired, unjaded and intellectually inquiring film fan.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Peter Medak
Written by: Peter Nichols
Starring: Alan Bates, Janet Suzman
Released: 1972 / Genre: Comedy-Drama
Country: UK / IMDB
Top 10 Films reviewed A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg on Blu-ray courtesy of Powerhouse Films which released the film on limited edition dual format DVD/Blu-ray on August 28. The release, amongst other things, features an audio commentary with director Peter Medak and film historian Sam Dunn, a newly recorded interview with actor Janet Suzman and a 20-minute interview with playwright Peter Nichols.