CFF Collection: Runaways. Film Review

Director: Lewis Gilbert / David Eady / Frank Godwin
Running Time: 68 / 62 / 70 mins
Certificate: PG
Format: DVD
Reviewed by Guy Adams

The Children’s Film Foundation, countless childhood’s would certainly have been a gloomier place without it.

Founded in 1951, the CFF was a non-profit organisation that produced short films specifically tailored for children. The films would provide the backbone for Saturday morning matinees in cinemas. When the matinee floundered during the seventies, so did the CFF though they would continue in active production until the mid-eighties, striking deals with TV stations rather than cinema chains. Many — myself included — would discover their work when they were screened on BBC 1 under the Friday Film Special banner.

It’s a delight to be able to revisit their output through the BFI’s recent DVD collections, offering three films per themed disc.

The latest, subtitled ‘Runaways’ offers a trio spanning the full thirty years of the CFF’s existence.

JOHNNY ON THE RUN, originally released in 1953, is an early picture from famed director Lewis Gilbert. Gilbert would go on to direct such classics as ALFIE and EDUCATING RITA, as well as three Bond pictures (YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, SPY WHO LOVED ME and MOONRAKER).

Here he tells the story of a Polish war orphan, Janek (Eugeniusz Chylek) who runs away from his adoptive family only to end up embroiled with a pair of crooks. Beautifully shot, it’s an utterly charming piece of cinema that tugs at the heart strings shamelessly (yes, this soppy, damp rag of a reviewer got dewy eyed, what of it?).

HIDE AND SEEK, from 1972, offers a young Gary Kemp being terribly lanky in a pullover. He stumbles upon a runaway who has fled an approved school in order to find his criminal dad. Robin Askwith features as a dozy crook. Roy Dotrice offers a comedy turn as an OAP shut-in. If you could lick the film it would taste of Spangles and Golden Virginia.

Not that the movie is purely an exercise in nostalgia, despite the joy of wandering around a London of building sites and bobbies on the beat, as with JOHNNY ON THE RUN, it’s an hour of solid filmmaking that throws a constant blend of fun and adventure at the screen.

Finally, in 1985’s TERRY ON THE FENCE, we have the wonderfully gritty tale of a young kid who falls in with a bad crowd and is forced to help them rob his school. What makes TERRY ON THE FENCE stand out is that it refuses to take the easy route with its characters, particularly in the case of the troubled leader of the gang, Les, wonderfully played by Neville Watson. He alternates between being the flick-knife wielding thug of our playground nightmares and a genuinely sympathetic lead, a kid with no future living in the shadow of an abusive mother. It’s wonderfully grim stuff.

All three admirably show the CFF at its best, top-notch little movies that are far more than trips down memory lane but rather perfect little gems of British moviemaking.