For the first time in many years, I’ve watched The League of Gentlemen, the classic 1960 film from which the comedy show took its name. It’s a black and white movie, broadly in the tradition of the Ealing Comedies, and a thoroughly good period piece, as well as excellent light entertainment that has retained its charm and grip.
The film was based on a book published a couple of years earlier by John Boland. The story involves a redundant and embittered senior army officer, at odds with post-war British society, who hatches a plan to rob a bank. He decides to rope in a number of former military men who have fallen on hard times in the years since the war, and who have indulged in a variety of crimes or shady dealings, but who bring a range of skills to his heist team.
The ensemble cast is led by Jack Hawkins, at his imperious best, and is full of names who dominated British cinema and television for many years. They include Bryan Forbes, who directed (his wife Nanette Newman also has a small role), Richard – later Lord – Attenborough, Terence Alexander (best remembered as Charlie Hungerford in the long-running Jersey cop series Bergerac) and a host of other fine performers. Even Oliver Reed has a walk-on part.
It’s a movie quite different in style from The Italian Job, made only nine years later, but very much a product of the Swinging Sixties, while The League of Gentlemen harks bark to an earlier time. As for John Boland, he was a prolific thriller writer, but I am not familiar with his other work – though the success of his most famous book did prompt him to bring back the Gentlemen for subsequent adventures.