That Certain Thing Called The Boy Friend: The Charm That Soothed Ken Russell’s Savage Breast


What to do when Netflix et al no longer holds whatever meagre charms they once did? Rifle through your own stash of DVDs and beg, borrow or steal the treasures of cine-loving friends. The rewards can be considerably more satisfying.

As a HUGE Ken Russell fan, it’s frustrating that so much of his catalogue is mired in rights issues that keeps them out of circulation. So to get a copy of The Boy Friend (1971), usually only available as a special order from the Warner Archives, was a coup.

Straight off The Devils (another classic never available in its full theatrical form), Russell transformed a 1953 West End musical into an all-singing, all-dancing acid-laced Biba-esque extravaganza. A musical-within-a-musical-within-a-musical, it’s set in the 1920s, amongst a direly-talented English seaside theatrical company, regularly spinning off into Busby Berkeley fantasies steeped in Clarice Cliff palettes. Twiggy (in a role that marked Julie Andrews’ stage debut ) is all dewy-eyed ingenue in a cast of English stalwarts (such as Barbara Windsor and the George of George and Mildred fame).

An uncharacteristic affection dissipates Ken Russell’s usual bombast and makes it so much  more enjoyable.