An Unflinching Eye: The Films of Richard Woolley (4-Disc Box Set) – Review
By Sarah Morgan
Being a British film-maker in the 1970s and 1980s wasn’t easy.
Despite its glories during the 1960s, the UK industry was in decline. But, thankfully, there were still several individuals determined to get their visions on the screen. Richard Woolley was one of them.
He has Yorkshire links too, having been a part of the Red Ladder Theatre Company in Leeds during the 1970s. In 1990 he set up the Northern School of Film & Television at Leeds Met Uni and in 2005 became the first holder of the Greg Dyke Chair of Film & Television at York University.
Woolley also contributed to YTV’s Calendar Carousel arts show in the 1980s and set his 2014 novel Sekabo on the North York Moors.
But his lasting legacy is likely to be a body of unusual, compelling and utterly original films made on a shoestring budget before his retirement from directing in 1988.
This collection – which had a limited release in 2011 but is now being reissued – contains four major works, alongside several shorts, some of which were completed while Woolley was studying in Berlin.
The highlights begin with Illusive Crime, an experimental piece whose depiction of a supposedly traditional marriage raised eyebrows on its release in 1976.
Telling Tales, made a couple of years later, again focuses on marriage. This time, a middle-class industrialist and his wife are at loggerheads, while their working-class housekeeper and her husband also have issues to overcome.
Brothers and Sisters (1981) echoes in part the Yorkshire Ripper murders. At the story’s heart are two very different brothers – one left-leaning, the other more right wing – who may know more about the slaying of a local prostitute than they’re letting on.
Finally, Girl from the South (top image), Woolley’s final film, examines a disastrous relationship between a romance-obsessed teenager and a local boy she meets while visiting her grandparents in Leeds.
The projects get more conventional as time goes on – whether that was accidental or because Woolley couldn’t get funding for more experimental works, is unknown, but it’s nevertheless interesting to see how his work developed over a number of years.
The most fascinating film is Brothers and Sisters, thanks to a strong performance by Carolyn Pickles (one of the few recognisable actors in the entire boxset), and to the fact that it was made on some of the streets Peter Sutcliffe would have frequented, but before he was apprehended.
Special features include several interviews with Woolley himself, which are vital to anyone requiring an in-depth insight into his productions.
‘An Unflinching Eye: The Films of Richard Woolley (1976-1988)’ is released by BFI, £24.99