There was a remarkable strangeness in reading a recent Guardian article with Danny Boyle, in which the director stated that Britain may not be “great filmmakers”. The article is too slight to be substantial, and Boyle could have possibly been suggesting that Britain hasn’t been great in incubating filmmaking as an artistic medium. Yet this still comes across as flawed. So many filmmakers, including Boyle himself, have made considerable roads in making mainstream filmmaking what it is. There is perhaps something to say about Britain not doing enough to acknowledge itself in cinema; our best talent loves to scarper to the golden shores of Hollywood once the chance arises. However, the likes of Boyle, a talented and dynamic British filmmaker at his best, making such a claim comes off silly at best, with more clarification needed at its worst.
It also highlights why the likes of artists like Wendy Toye have seemingly been so easily forgotten. Toye was truly a Jill of all trades. Well-versed in choreography, theatre production, and filmmaking, her history in a variety of different mediums is commendable. The two short films found on this very Blu-ray enjoyed an ample amount of critical acclaim. Toye, who had collaborated with both Carol Reed (The Third Man) and Jean Cocteau (La Belle et la Bête), managed to craft seven feature films within nine years, at a time when the idea of a female director was frowned upon by those in the British film industry. Toye can easily be considered a trailblazer in a film industry which even today can feel out of sorts when it comes to female directors.
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Her debut film, The Teckman Mystery, was a film adaptation of the 1953 television mystery The Teckman Biography. The story deals with biographer Phillip Chance (John Justin) whose research into a recently departed, young test pilot lands the writer into a bizarre web of political intrigue. His only guide through this is the test pilot’s sister, Helen (Margaret Leighton), who he quickly falls in love with.
The Teckman Mystery plays out its rather straightforward noir-lite thriller at a decent pace and is mostly kept interesting by the film’s main performances. John Justin does well to keep the role of Chance on the right side of obnoxious. This is balanced out by the fact that Phillip Chance is just so amateur at sleuthing, giving the character an element of vulnerability that’s well needed for the film’s final act. The jewel of the film is the skittish performance by Margaret Leighton, whose wiry frame and nervous eyes provide a different flavour to espionage such as this.
Toye shows that she’s no slouch in the direction department. Despite the film’s unremarkable plot turning over no real surprises, Toye has a deft touch in composition and framing. Nothing in the film feels out of place, despite the narrative’s lack of ambiguity. The film’s highlight is found within its climax; a rather complicated cross-cutting exercise in which characters are being watched and chased. It is the perfect exercise to show film students in terms of character geography.
The slow, painful demise of physical media can certainly be felt from the Blu-ray’s small number of extras. Fortunately, what is managed on the disc is so good. A meaty talking head affair with film scholars Pamela Hutchinson and Jo Botting is enjoyable and insightful, laying down the history of Toye as a rather maverick creator who was seeking to find her path. Meanwhile, praise must certainly be given to the striking transfer of Toye’s two acclaimed shorts: The Stranger Left no Card (1952) and On the Twelfth Day… (1955), both harbouring a keen visual vision and playful manner about themselves. The inclusion of these shorts do well to freshen the minds of cinephiles who may not have caught hold of Toye’s work as of yet.
The Teckman Mystery is out on Digital and Blu-ray on 21st November from Studiocanal.