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Jane Birkin in Poor Cherry

Armchair Theatre: Poor Cherry (Dir Piers Haggard, 1967)

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Basic plot (taken from DVD sleeve notes):  Cherry’s marriage to Brian may have stagnated, but she finds plenty of compensation in her work with Philip Rick, a candidate in the local election.  When her home becomes a campaign headquarters, the two are conveniently thrown together.

Cast: Judy – Jane Birkin; Philip Rick – Peter Arne; Abbie – Judy Cornwell; Andrew – John Glyn-Jones; Cherry – Dilys Laye; Rita – Gwen Nelson; Brian – John Wood;

Broadcast: 9 September 1967, on ITV

Availability:   Available from Network on the Armchair Theatre Volume 3 four disc set

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The story in full – *SPOILER ALERT*:  

Poor Cherry tells the story of Cherry’s marriage to Brian.  The story unfolds over several weeks during a by-election in a small suburb of London.  Cherry and her husband Brian are discussing the case of a local woman called Maria Murphy, who has 7 children and is married to an alcoholic who beats her.  She has been told she will soon be evicted and Brian wants to try and help her.  He sits quietly researching as Cherry and her 3 helpers (Rita, an elderly widowed neighbour; Abbie, a young pretty neighbour whose husband is working overseas; Judy, Cherry’s and Brian’s daughter) sit folding campaign leaflets, typing letters and stuffing envelopes.  Brian appears to be outside the main activity, seated as he is at the end of the table immersed in his book looking for ways to help Maria Murphy rather than helping out with Philip Rick’s campaign.

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Cherry tells Brian in no uncertain terms that helping Maria is “a waste of time”, she wants Brian instead to concentrate on the campaign and get the postal votes sorted because she believes “the way to help the Murphys is to get Philip elected”.  For me Maria Murphy’s problem and Cherry’s attitude towards it serves as a metaphor for the state of Cherry and Brian’s marriage, which is soon shown to be in a state of disarray.  “I’m not giving up because Cherry says it’s no use”, Brian tells Abbie, but later he says they have to trust Maria Murphy’s case to Philip Rick’s care because “there’s no one else’ll do it… I’m tired…”

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Before long Cherry falls into Philip Rick’s arms, but once the affair has run its course and Philip has returned to his wife, Cherry appears to have rethought the Maria Murphy problem.  Positions appear to have shifted; now Cherry is the one looking at Brian’s books and considering the case of Maria Murphy, which she no longer sees as a waste of time.  When Brian says “I thought you’d given her up as a lost cause,” Cherry replies that there is “no such thing”.  The gulf between Cherry and Brian appears to be narrowing and if their marriage was once considered a lost cause, perhaps now it too can get back on track as Cherry and Brian sit together, united, researching Maria Murphy’s case.

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But there is far more to Poor Cherry than Cherry’s affair and her eventual reconciliation with Brian.  The election and Cherry’s involvement in this is used as a backdrop against which to uncover the major themes of absent husbands and attitudes to marriage; the generational gap and the conflict of youth versus age;  the passing of time; happiness / unhappiness; changing the world and the act of saving or being saved.

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Absent husbands

Maria Murphy’s husband is, so we’re told, a “drunken layabout” who beats her up and leaves her to cope with 7 small children and the threat of an eviction looming over them.

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Rita’s husband is dead but apparently when he was alive he left her to her own devices a lot whilst he was out working on political campaigns.

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Abbie’s husband, Peter, often works overseas and leaves her at home alone – he is currently away in Africa for 6 weeks and hasn’t been in touch with her for several weeks; she fears he has found himself a girlfriend.

Abbie tells Cherry, “You’re very lucky, Cherry, having a husband who’s at home so much.”  But Cherry doesn’t see it that way: “His body’s here, he sits and writes his books, but his mind is always somewhere else, isn’t it, Brian?”  As if to prove her point there is a long delay before Brian distractedly replies, “… Hmm?”  Philip Rick, the politician whose campaign they are all supporting, points out to Brian, “If you’ll excuse me saying so, you’re so complacent a husband, you might as well have been away.”

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But Philip Rick, is himself an absent husband – he has left his wife home alone whilst he is working on his campaign, “…she only takes up a little corner of my life, you see,” he admits when asking Cherry if she will come and visit him in his hotel room.

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Attitudes to marriage

Rita uses her widowed status as some kind of badge of honour.  She helps out on the campaigns in remembrance of her husband Clive and “all the hours he used to put in at polling times.”  During a discussion with Judy, Rita gets so annoyed she slaps Judy’s face.  She says it was because Judy referred to the election campaign as “a load of old rubbish”, but in fact what she goes on to say reveals her real source of annoyance:  “…what I mind is the time my Clive wasted making a better world for the likes of you.  Late home night after night with his dinner drying up in the oven and my temper rising and the rows.”

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Rita thinks her husband “wasted” his time making the world a better place, and perhaps she believes this because she actually feels that it is not a better place at all.  Cherry tells Rita that the reason she is now helping out with the campaign is because her husband did – “You think only through your husband; you don’t find yourself with much of a mind when he’s gone… A woman who lives her life through her husband is a fool.”

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But Rita does have a mind of her own and she now finds herself wondering why she helps out on Philip Rick’s campaign – is she too wasting her time, as she feels her husband was before her, trying to get Rick elected when she has been told not to expect him to help her find a solution to the damp problem she has in her home or the traffic problems she has in her street?

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Cherry’s opinion is rather brutal but it is true that with her husband dead Rita feels she has nothing to look forward to apart from her widow’s pension.  And she obviously was at home cooking his meals and being the good housewife whilst he was out working on the campaign at all hours, but is her attitude to marriage really worse than Cherry’s or Abbie’s?

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Abbie is of the same generation as Cherry and although they are supposed to be friends, they are very quickly established to be dramatic foils.  In the same way that Cherry disapproves of Rita living through her husband, she disapproves of Abbie’s wishes to be a good wife – she sees Abbie as naive and her aims as foolish.  She is referred to as a “mother-smother”, “the nest-builder”, “the teamaker”.  Abbie just wants “a man who’d save me” but Peter works away a lot and her life, she says, “hasn’t turned out the way I’d hoped.”

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Abbie gets terribly lonely when Peter is away and although she fills up her hours by being creative and making things, looking after children and helping out with the election campaign, she feels that “if there’s nobody there to see, you get to feel that you’re hardly a woman at all.”  She is said to have one-night stands with other men when Peter is absent as she finds herself wondering:  “Why isn’t he here looking after me?  Saving me from myself?  He’s got no right to go off and leave me by myself.”  The sub-theme of saving others and being saved is something I will come back to later.

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Cherry reveals that she was trapped into marriage by having Judy:

Cherry:  I’ve spent my life dusting and sweeping and cleaning my little corner of the world and it’s still as much a mess as it ever was. 

Judy:  And if you were so miserable with dad for 20 years why did you marry him in the first place? 

Cherry:  Because when it came to the matter of registering you it seemed simpler, to be married that’s why.

Of course this doesn’t quite tie in with the time-line – Judy is only 17 years old, so if Cherry has been unhappy for 20 years then she was unhappy before she was married.  Her own stupid fault, then, to fall pregnant with someone she was “miserable” with.

But her attitude towards marriage shouldn’t seem too surprising because for somebody who believes she has spent her whole life doing things for other people, to make other people’s lives better, she has a notable lack of empathy and is very hard-line, cruel and cynical. In fact, she probably uses helping others, and in particular the election, as a distraction from her own shortcomings and her failing marriage.  Rita, who unwillingly ends up being a mother-figure and sounding post for Judy who just wants to talk to someone about her feelings for Jake, thinks that Cherry would find her time was better spent if she looked after Judy instead.  But that’s not part of the deal with Cherry – in marrying Brian she had a mother for her child.

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Cherry has never been maternal, according to Brian, and he seems to have been the sole carer in the family, staying at home to look after Judy whilst Cherry went out to “sit down every Sunday in Trafalgar Square when we were protesting about the bomb.”   But Cherry says Brian made her feel like she should be at home looking after Judy, as if this was somehow unfair of him.  She doesn’t stop to wonder what he had to give up so she could go out “making the world a better place”.

And he gets little thanks for his patience, the cooking for the family falls to Brian – “if Brian wants to cook himself tempting little dishes he’s welcome, it’s his stove as well as mine.  He’s a better cook than me, aren’t you, Brian?” – and Judy, who always cooks breakfast for Brian and herself.  In fact, Cherry does not seem to be much of a wife at all to Brian – he no doubt takes up just as small a corner in her life as Philip Rick’s wife takes in Philip’s life.

So why doesn’t this liberated woman leave her husband if he means so little to her and makes her so unhappy?  She puts it down to habit, as she does with so much else:

“There never seemed any reason not to stay with him, that’s why I stayed.  I think. We went to the same school; we lived in the same village; we married when we were 20; we’ve always worked together and lived together.”

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Brian, unsurprisingly, does not feel valued by his wife: “The more necessary things are, the more dreary they appear; like husbands I expect.”  Rita, who has lost her husband, points out that “You ought to value things whilst you’ve got them, they don’t last long.”  But Cherry is not the kind of woman to take any advice and instead of working on her marriage decides to push her problems to one side by taking up with Philip Rick instead.  Not a very healthy approach to marriage and not a fine example to set to her teenage daughter who is confused about her feelings and what it means to be growing up…

Cherry’s object of desire, Philip Rick, reveals that he married a “plump and capable [woman]… a little older” and she has “been a mother to me ever since”.  With mother at home to take care of all his other needs, Rick, whose name can be shorted to P. Rick if you so wish, spends his spare time gallivanting with “model girls, beautiful, rich, unfeeling things with long legs and flat chests; dolly girls, with skinny lips, big black eyes, and little skirts…”   He says he simply wants “a woman to equal me”, but he does not – he just wants pretty, momentary distractions.  His attitude to marriage is just as unhealthy as Cherry’s, but it keeps him happy at least even if nobody else is happy with the arrangement.

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Judy thinks you should try before you buy and that maybe Cherry is having an affair now because “it must have been very boring just with one man all her life the way people did.” Judy thinks the pill relieves women of making awful mistakes, for example, having to marry the first man who comes along.  But as Rita points out, “You can make awful mistakes anyway.”

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The generational gap and the conflict of youth vs age

Poor Cherry was made in 1967, the year abortion was legalised and with the birth control pill available from 1961, the ’60s were seen to be greatly socially liberating, especially for women; women like Maria Murphy, and Cherry who clearly did not really want a child, would have been empowered to have sexual relations without so much risk of unwanted pregnancy, or unwanted marriage.  Judy is a young adult, growing up in this time of great change, when attitudes to sex differ from generation to generation – but she’s not yet quite sure herself what she thinks of these changes in attitudes.

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On the one hand, she feels that, “Older people can be very crude.  There’s more in life than just sex”, but on the other hand she is rather preoccupied by the subject, offering up the suggestion that, “There’s no reason not to do what you want.  Not now; not with the pill and everything.”  The only problem she finds with this statement is that you have to “find the right person to do it with, that’s all.”  Easier said than done, of course, although she obviously hopes that her Jake is “the right person”.

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But in Judy’s case it’s not so much about social inhibitions disappearing, signalling freedom and happiness, as confusion on what it all means.  Judy, not knowing whether, just because she can, she should be acting on impulses, looks for guidance but gets little from the disappointing and embittered role models she has in her life.  She likes looking at Jake and being looked at by him but when Rita asks her why she is not down at the club with Jake, she doesn’t really know except that she feels “only soon it won’t just be looking, will it?”

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With the pill women were given the opportunity and freedom to separate sex from children and marriage, but it didn’t automatically mean that the decision to have sex should be taken so lightly.  Symbolising the older generation, Rita might not have felt that she had the freedom to be independent in the way that Cherry and Abbie and Judy have and this seems to make her very cross.  “Doing what you want the moment you want is very fashionable these days.”  But Judy does not do what she wants without a thought, she clearly thinks about it very much and finds it all very confusing.

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There is a clear sub-theme throughout Poor Cherry highlighting the idea that with age comes wisdom and knowledge.  Judy, the symbol of youth, is often told not to be silly (“Try not to make a fool of yourself, Judy”; “Don’t be silly”; “Oh, run away and play houses with your little boys”).  She repeatedly wishes that she was “cleverer”, but with her innocence worn on her sleeve her philosophy of life is quite refreshing:  “I suppose I should be thinking about things but you see I can’t be bothered.  All I can think about is Jake; his hair curls behind his ears like a baby’s…”

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But whilst she is often side-lined during conversations because of her age (“I know what I’d do with him.”  What?  “Never you mind.”), Judy knows everything, because no one actually hides anything from her.  It is, however, a source of frustration for her that the adults won’t actually talk to her about things or explain things to her.  Judy may not always understand everything, but she finds she notices more than the adults who don’t appear to pay much attention to anything.

Rita disapproves of the way the world is changing and the liberal attitudes to sex and marriage she sees around her but she seems to hold Judy primarily responsible for this – she constantly expresses disapproval, disgust and outrage at the opinions and actions of the younger generation and the “permissive society” as represented by Judy.  Judy wonders if Rita slapped her because she is jealous or angry “that we’re [the youth] having a good time and they [the older generation] didn’t.”

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Maybe she is, but someone closer to home is far more jealous than Rita ever could be – Cherry.  Judy’s youth reminds Cherry that she is no longer young herself and throughout the few weeks of the story this builds into a resentment that starts to bubble over into Cherry’s general feeling of discontent with her life:

Judy:  Ooh, you’re so jealous of me, aren’t you?  Because I’m young and happy and I can play the field and you never could. 

Cherry:  Yes, you are right, I am jealous of you.  I can scarcely bear to look at you.  My life is finished and you have just started.  Every day you grow more makes me grow less. 

Judy:  Don’t let’s quarrel.  It’s not my fault. 

Cherry:  I know; I’m sorry. 

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The tables turn as Cherry asks her daughter, “What am I going to do?”  Whether or not she actually expected to get advice – good advice, at that – from her daughter, she gives her some:  “Philip Rick won’t make you look any younger.  He’ll just make you look sillier.”  Perhaps this is the turning point for Cherry; the advice certainly makes sense, now who’s being silly, Cherry?

What I find most impressive with Judy is her ability to simply forgive and also to make the first gestures at reconciling with people who have said or done terrible things to her – she doesn’t hold it against Rita that she slapped her for a trivial comment; she doesn’t hold it against her mother that she virtually said her mere existence was ruining her life.  Judy has a great capacity to just move forward from upsets and to be optimistic for the future.

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Whilst Judy may be confused about her own future and plans, she is able to observe clearly from the outside what is happening to the adults and appears to know more than they know about their own affairs.  Unlike Rita and her father she notices that Philip Rick is making advances towards her mother and she somehow manages to consider all factors and reduce the situation to what it is with comments as cutting as those her mother makes:

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“He’s married though, isn’t he?  So it would only be something temporary.  How sordid!  Philip Rick’s very passé really.  He’s hardly ever on the telly these days; I expect that’s why he went into politics.  Some people do anything for an audience.” 

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Judy also notices that Abbie is making advances towards her father, which again has passed her father by unnoticed.  She points out that her mother has “got a very jealous disposition” and tells her father to “do something.”  She is right to say that her mother would “appreciate a little bit of fuss” and although it may not be quite the solution Judy had imagined this information drives her father to Abbie’s arms, which he realises is the way to win Cherry’s interest back.

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Judy then feeds some information to her mother about Brian spending the night at Abbie’s place, knowing that this will make Cherry jealous.  And she is right, the inexperienced youth who they won’t take seriously and who they judge to be “too young to have valid views on anything” is the one to offer the solution to all their problems and in such a way that they don’t even notice what she has done.

Time

Cherry gives the impression that time is passing too fast – she is always “busy” and always looking for ways to save time.  When the artistic Abbie decides to write on the campaign mail-out envelopes because “it looks nicer written”, Cherry tells her it takes longer and is wasting time; she passes her a stamp to use instead.

Brian says that he had wanted more children but Cherry “could never find time for another.”  Cherry was too busy to notice what Brian wanted in their marriage and it seems that until Philip Rick asks her if she is happy with Brian she hasn’t even taken the time to consider this.  He tells Cherry that she needs to relax and slow down, but Cherry says she keeps herself busy because if she slows down “I’d have time to think and that would never do.”  She is too busy to notice that her husband is ill and doesn’t even notice when he spends the night with Abbie.

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Rick appeals to Cherry’s ego and her vulnerable side by telling her she looks about 18 – this works long enough to hook Cherry in, but even in the early stages of her affair with Rick she knows that she is kidding herself if she thinks she can regain her youth this way and she wonders out loud: “What am I doing?  I’m not 18.”

Brian too feels that time is passing him by – he is feeling disenchanted with the world and run down, possibly a little depressed.  He visits the doctor because he is tired and the doctor advises him that this is understandable because “The world these days is an ugly tiring place…”  Brian is suffering from death anxiety and it comes as a shock to him when his doctor tells him everyone is going to die.

Poor Cherry 43Poor Cherry 45A conversation between Cherry and Brian reveals their shared preoccupation with time:

Brian:  Stop wasting my time. 

Cherry:  There was a time when you and I…

Brian:  O, there was always a time. 

Cherry:  What have you been doing? 

Brian:  I’ve been seeing a doctor, actually. 

Cherry:  Of course, it was this afternoon.  Well I can’t remember everything, there’s so much.  Well, what did he say? 

Brian:  The time has passed for telling, I’m afraid, you let the moment go.  Do you remember when we were children how one day would last for eternity, summers would go on forever.  Now if the days flash by perhaps it’s because we want to see them pass, taking so little pleasure in them. 

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Whilst Brian fears the passing of time because he fears his death, he has so little joy in his life at the moment that he is almost wishing it away, wishing his own death, which might explain his feeling that he’s going to die.  His conversation with Philip Rick reveals the way he sees the world and his life today:  “Things date so quickly.  What was here yesterday is a pile of rubble today.”  Rick agrees with Brian that they are surrounded by the dismal but he finds a way to “pass the time” by seeking out “the one bright spot”, in this case Cherry.

Under the circumstances, when Judy tells the elders she is growing up as fast as she possibly can, this doesn’t sound like a positive move.

Happiness and unhappiness

Nobody in Poor Cherry appears to be happy aside from Philip Rick, who seems to be allowed to have his cake and eat it.  Philip is an ex TV star turned politician, and although he proclaims himself to be a “people’s saviour” he is in fact more of a pleasure seeker.  Philip is an egotist who uses flattery to woo vulnerable women into short-lived affairs with him; he doesn’t see himself as doing anything wrong, however, he just sees himself as providing a service: making unhappy women happy.  “I am not discontented, on the contrary my life is very good.  I simply want it to be good for everyone,” he says, claiming he is happy with his wife.  Whilst that might sound deluded perhaps he is happy, because as he explains, “She leaves me a great wide area of freedom in which I feel what I want and do what I want and I’m happy.”   Although he may be happy with this arrangement, it seems highly unlikely that his wife would be quite so content.  Philip is, so we’re told, “easily bored” and quickly moves on to the next woman when the time is right; he says he tried Abbie but found she talked too much about her husband.  This, of course, would not have appealed to his ego and would not have made him happy and that just would not do.

Poor Cherry 2Poor Cherry 14The only other character who at least tries to be happy is Judy – personally I think the play should have been called Poor Judy, surrounded with such miserable and unknowingly terrible parents and adult role models you can’t help but feel sorry for her.  I even found myself hoping that she would go off and get herself pregnant so she could at least escape the misery at home.  However, Judy claims she’s not like Cherry.

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When Rita asks Judy if she has a good time, she responds:  “Well, if I don’t it’s only because of me.  Not because of anything outside me.  I mean, I don’t blame anyone.”  Judy tries to be happy but everyone else around her seems to be so unhappy that it makes her unhappy too:  “Oh! Why does everybody have to make me so miserable just when I was managing to be happy?”

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Brian tells Judy that it is only her youth that allows her to “imagine that there’s always something that can be done to make things better, that for every problem there’s a solution”.    But Judy’s youth allows her to believe that nice things with happen; she has hope.

Cherry’s attitude towards happiness is hard to understand.  She gives the impression she is a liberated woman and she is “free” and yet she says she spent “twenty years as the most moral and the most miserable person on this earth.” She can’t bear unhappy people, and yet she is so terribly unhappy herself and ignoring her own feelings whilst she immerses herself into an electoral campaign to get Philip Rick elected so he can help people in their district.

Changing the world and saving people / being saved

Aside from Judy who tries to ignore the boring and the ugly in the world and Abbie who wants to be saved herself (or saved from herself), everyone one else in Poor Cherry spends their time trying to change the world or saving people.

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Brian and Cherry spend no time on their own lives and relationship, to the extent that he feels: “Cherry and I don’t enjoy things, we change them.  Perhaps we would have done better… just to let things be.”   I would agree with that – they are not doing a very good job of it, but nonetheless they are still preoccupied with helping others.

Brian has conceded that he will “never save the world now.  Cherry knows it,” and that’s why she cooks bacon and eggs for Philip Rick, who she feels could yet save the world, and offers Brian none.  “He deserves his dinner more than me,” Brian says.

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But it’s hard to imagine why Cherry believes Rick will save the world – he is useless at helping others.  Waltzing into the room, he says, “Here comes the people’s saviour.  And look at the damage he causes”, sending election papers flying everywhere.  Unfortunately that’s not the only damage he does.

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Although he is new to local politics, Rick claims to be honest, “If the truth is a four-letter word, I am not afraid to use it.”  I can think of a couple of four-letter words he might be thinking of.  Like any politician, Rick promises to help his voters but Cherry tells Rita that Rick won’t be able to do anything to help her with the traffic problems down her street.  This is probably because instead of keeping his promises to help his supporters, Rick is preoccupied with getting what he wants by trying to convince Cherry that he can “rescue” her – even though she doesn’t feel the need to be rescued.  He says he’s “tried to save the world; I’ve come to it late but impassioned”, and impassioned is a good choice of words because in the next breath he is saying he is interested in Cherry and her body.

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Brian and Cherry have different ideas of how to save the world and help people anyway – Brian thinks “You’ve got to change [the world] from the inside out,” whilst Cherry wants to change the world from the outside in.  Cherry’s approach is to be very hard-faced – she feels she has to take control and charge of everything as no one else will, and makes snap decisions on whether someone can be helped or not; she gives the impression that Brian’s approach is ineffectual and inferior.   Neither approach appears to be very effective.  When Rita complained of damp in her home, Cherry recommended she go to the rent tribunal, whilst Brian gave Rita a piece of lino to cover up the damp patch.  She’d blow up the world to make her point; she wouldn’t give you a piece of lino like he did, even though it did rot within a month.”

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When discussing the Maria Murphy problem, Cherry’s judgement is:  “There’s nothing we can do about it except shoot – first her husband and then her landlord,” and adds to that, “Sorry, if ever there was an argument for compulsory sterilisation, it’s Maria Murphy.”

As Cherry has taken the decision that Maria Murphy cannot be helped, she expects Brian to fall in with her:  “Brian, do please leave that.  You’ve done what you can for the Murphys on the council and off, and it’s precisely nothing.”  She somehow believes that Philip Rick will be able to help, which is of course misguided.

Judy says Cherry is too busy “making the world a nice place for me to live in”, rather than spending time with her.  But Cherry’s idea of the world appears to have shrunk somewhat over the years.  She talks about how she used to protest every week in Trafalgar Square, but these days her world, her life and her activities appear to be confined to her semi-detached house on a small housing estate – on the one occasion she is seen outside the house she is sitting in the back of the election campaign van but still on the estate.  Her whole life revolves around Philip Rick’s election campaign, which is ultimately a waste of time because he will not help anyone and the world will not be radically changed as a result.

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When Cherry discusses her political involvement it feels like it is a responsibility that has fallen to her and hangs heavy; she does something not because she wants to but because she feels she has to: “somebody had to do something.”  Judy tells her, “You never look at anything or feel anything,” and she seems to be right; it’s all like a chore for her or even a habit.  And if she never looks at anything or feels anything, how is she to know that anything or anyone needs changing in the first place?

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A hopeful ending?

No, at least I don’t believe so.  Rita has stormed off offended that Cherry has, as she sees it, insulted her widowed state.  You get the impression she will not be back to help with the campaign.  After her one-night stand with Brian, Abbie has been told by the hypocritical and highly judgemental Cherry to get out of her house, so presumably she won’t be back either.   Neither seem to have a hopeful future: Rita with nothing to look forward to other than her widow’s pension; Abbie lonely and waiting for her absent husband to return, which is also uncertain.

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And it’s not even clear whether Cherry will continue with the campaign now that her affair with Philip Rick is over.  Rick’s wife has come to see him and he is with her for the time-being, but with his track record there’s no doubt he will move on to yet another short-lived affair as soon as an opportunity arises.

Judy has gone off to see Jake – you wish the best for Judy but she is so young and inexperienced it’s impossible to say how her life will go; even with “the pill” which seems to be seen as a cure-for-all, a happy end is not guaranteed of course.  Can she ignore the feelings inside that she says “choke” her and learn to live with them as her elders suggested?

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At least Judy tries to see the good things in life rather than the “ugly”, with which her elders seem to be preoccupied.  Judy explains to Brian that there are other things to look at than the rubbish and the ugliness, which on the one hand sounds positive.  But on the other hand, only looking at the things you like might also be misguided; the rubbish and the ugliness are still there, you’re just ignoring them.   As if to back up her theory, Judy picks up a piece of rubbish out of a puddle and shows it to Brian: “It all depends on how you look at them anyway.  Look, you see?”  Brian obviously doesn’t see and it’s not clear what we’re supposed to be seeing, it is after all just a piece of trash covered in puddle water.

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Judy may have a more positive attitude to life than her elders but she seems to cope with escapism:  “…when things outside get boring and ugly, I just kind of go inwards into myself.  It’s quite nice in there.”  It may be quite nice in there, but it’s not facing up to reality.

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Jake, Judy tells Brian, would marry her if she fell pregnant.  This might seem positive but if she found herself in that situation she would just be repeating Cherry’s mistakes: pregnant and marrying for the sake of the child.  “The trouble with your generation is you’re a load of old cynics,” Judy tells Brian.  Cynical definitely, but maybe as her elders suggest cynicism comes with experience…

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For Brian things seem a little more positive, with Rick out of the way and Cherry jealous of his fling with Abbie things seem to be getting back on track in his marriage.  A symbol of hope is discovered by Brian on the demolition site – he finds the azalea bush he wanted to rescue before the contractors went in to demolish houses in the area.  At first he thinks there is no hope as the demolition has already taken place, but he tells Judy “Azaleas like acid soil – still if they don’t concrete it over, it might push its way up again.”  He finds a poppy growing on the building site and then finally he finds the azalea – still there and intact despite being covered with debris.

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When Brian gets home he finds Cherry poring over books, her mind changed on the Maria Murphy problem.  Cherry also finds Brian a changed man – no longer does he allow her to run rough shod over him, instead he tells her he will not listen to her remarks about his fling with Abbie.  Cherry sees the new Brian as “Quite the strong man; it’s rather nice.”

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Changes may have occurred and things may seem to be more positive but it’s not all entirely rosy, however – the best that can be hoped for is a reconciliation between Brian and Cherry, but Cherry does not look set to change her ways too much.  Cherry confesses to Brian that she might have upset Judy by telling her a few truths and yet again displays a lack of maternal instinct with a totally understated remark, “I’m very fond of her really”.  This statement is reinforced with a question full of self-interest, “When she’s gone what will I have?”  Cherry has spent very little time on her daughter and yet she thinks of her as some kind of commodity.

Poor Cherry 66Poor Cherry 69

But even though it’s clear that Cherry is an out-and-out egotist, somehow Brian still wants her in his life.  He tells her she will still have him when Judy has gone.  “Will I?  I’m getting rather sour and withered for a Cherry.  But if you could put up with it, I suppose I can.”  Not exactly expressing enthusiasm – “putting up with it”?

Poor Cherry 83

Back to that hoary old chestnut about being told old, Cherry and Brian agree that at “our age… the only thing to do is to go on doing what you’ve always done… Too late to start again.”   Quite a sad conclusion really.

Poor Cherry 81

Other information about the film:  Poor Cherry was written by Fay Weldon.  Director Piers Haggard is the grandson of H. Rider Haggard.

Poor Cherry 29

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About tinynoggin

I love films (anything from exploitation stuff to stylish Eastern European cinema, but I'm not really into blockbusters and modern Hollywood), music (Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin, Michel Polnareff, Left Banke, Francoise Hardy, The Seeds, Love, The Zombies, etc) and books (Kurt Vonnegut, Julian Maclaren-Ross, Michel Houellebecq, Patrick Hamilton, Alan Sillitoe, and more). I take photographs with my Lomography Diana F plus or my Olympus Trip and like making stuff in my spare time.

One response to “Jane Birkin in Poor Cherry

  1. Pingback: Jane Birkin – the missing TV plays from the 1960s |

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