A Film4-backed short directed by Kibwe Tavares and starrnig Daniel Kaluuya
Lana Turner stars in this drama set in the fictious New England town where all-American values hide darker secrets
To say that Grace Metalious' novel 'Peyton Place' blew the lid off small town America would be overstating the case, but her infamous, lurid novel, the inspiration for Mark Robson's film and the long-running US soap, caused a bit of a stink when published in the 1950s. It revealed the dark heart of ordinary American society, the corruption, scandal-mongering and dirty secrets that folk keep hidden. This dark side has become fertile territory for modern storytellers - David Lynch being the quintessential debunker of suburban normality - and Peyton Place may well be the template for these tales, such as the contemporary 'Desperate Housewives'.
In Robson's somewhat sanitised but nonetheless soapy film, the inhabitants of Peyton Place hide numerous secrets - physical abuse, illegitimacy, alcoholism, incest, murder. The rash of social and sexual ailments combined with the townsfolk's curtain-twitching pretence to propriety makes for an aura of repression and corruption.
Allison MacKenzie (Varsi) is the daughter of Constance (Turner), the local dress shop owner. A few months shy of graduation, this bright girl yearns for freedom, but her uptight mother is intent on shielding her from adulthood while herself living a life of enforced spinsterhood as a punishment for some dark secret she harbours. Meanwhile, Allison's best friend Selena (Lange), daughter of her mother's maid, has to contend with a drunken lecherous stepfather and a mother who is unwilling to stand up for her. Their classmates are growing up, negotiating responsibility, love and sex while hiding their promiscuity from the older generation. Everyone has a story to tell, but very few are willing to tell it, bar the local gossips and busybodies. As the war approaches, the residents of Peyton Place must face up to some home truths.
Peyton Place, with its myriad plot threads and cast of characters is a rollicking good yarn with obvious melodramatic tensions borne from some very juicy themes. People flocked to see it on its release. Director Robson exercises some control to save the piece from falling into complete trash territory, dealing with the more lurid moments with a good dose of restraint. It's ably performed by a solid and interesting cast - Turner is as watchable as ever, and Varsi and would-be beau Tamblyn are suitably unaffected - and this helps root the somewhat astonishing plotlines.
The film shamelessly celebrates the purity of the New England landscape and culture - the changing seasons, good ol' American traditions like Labour Day and high school homecoming - while probing the underbelly of this wholesomeness. By no means an indictment of society, and certainly never openly cynical or satirical, it is nonetheless evident that Peyton Place is somewhat sick at heart, and by extension, so is much of small town America.
Epic and soapy, this is a good yarn for those who can stomach a dose of all-American splendour, even if it is decidedly dirty at the edges.
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Film4.com editor Catherine Bray ventures outside the Cannes Competition line-up - although not very far outside, with round ups of two films from the prestigious Un Certain Regard strand... Having no