Unman, Wittering and Zigo

“Stylish” isn’t usually a word you’d use to describe 1970’s British Cinema- usually “drab” is more fitting- but John Mackenzie’s Unman, Wittering and Zigo is a stylish thriller right from the very first shot, which I won’t describe for fear of spoiling the surprise. Mackenzie, who is probably best known in the U.S. for directing the thrillers Ruby and The Fourth Protocol (and everywhere else for The Long Good Friday) shows he is well in command of his craft with this obscure little gem.

David Hemmings plays a schoolteacher with a new job at a stuffy prep school, only to discover his predecessor died in an accident… or did he? It’s hard to tell- his creepy students start messing with his mind from Day One, and it only gets worse from there. It doesn’t help that his young and gorgeous wife catches the boys’ imaginations during Sunday Mass (oh yes, British life is displayed in all its repressed glory here) or that the school’s Headmaster is every bit a tool as you would expect.

But it’s those Prep School Boys that really make the film memorable, bringing a Lord of the Flies vibe to the plot that keeps every scene vibrant and tense. Shades of Rosemary’s Baby (only a couple of years old at this point) can be felt all over, in a good way- Mackenzie channels Polanski’s paranoia without actually ripping him off. Only at the very end does the film’s plot stumble a little, but by then it doesn’t matter too much- you’ve already been taken for a pretty memorable ride.

Tip o’ the hat to, who suggested this film in the first place.

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