The Beatnik phenomenon is often considered exclusively American but in reality Britain had its own form of it. The UK beatniks were writers like Alexander Trocchi, Colin Wilson and to a lesser extent Harold Pinter sometimes they are referred to as “The Angry Young Men”. Most of the American Beatnik writers such as William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg were living in France at the time when Beatniks went overground in the US and spread to the UK. Naturally like with cinema in the US Beatniks would be reflected in British cinema as well. Beat Girl remains the definitive film about the small but vital beatnik movement in the UK.
Beat Girl as the title suggests is about a young girl Jennifer (Gillian Hills) who becomes involved with the beatnik scene based at the aptly titled “Off Beat Coffee Bar” in Soho. Across the street there is a seedy strip joint run by a young Christopher Lee in a rare early non Hammer role. Jennifer square father has recently married a French woman who may have a connection to the strip joint in her past. Jennifer runs away every night to hang out with hipster friends which includes a pre-booze Oliver Reed and Adam Faith as Dave.
The film is very much a classier British version of a AIP film of the same period such as Daddy-O or Bucket of Blood. It’s directed by Edmond T. Gréville who fled to Britain during WW2 and made a string of films with Beat Girl and his remake of The Hands of Orlac being his best known films in the UK. Beat Girl runs along at a fast pace of slightly under 90 minutes (depending on the cut you watch) and it’s certainly a cheesy view of the Beatnik scene in London but remains one of the few documents of the British beatnik scene. Gilliam Hills controls the screen and it’s not wonder she was at one point considered the UK answer to Brigitte Bardot.
Gillian Hills would become a classic actress of counter-culture films with additional roles in Blow-Up and A Clockwork Orange. Along with her film work she recorded a bunch of French pop from the late 50s and throughout the ’60s. A recent interview with Hills in included on the disc. There are two different alternative versions of Beat Girl with a couple of minutes added. Christopher Lee appears in a short film Cross-Roads and some glamour shorts are included as well.
[rating=4] | Ian Schultz
Drama | UK, 1959 | BFI DVD | 12 | 22nd April 2016 (UK) | Dir.Edmond T. Gréville | David Farrar, Noëlle Adam, Christopher Lee, Gillian Hills, Oliver Reed, Shirley Anne Field | Buy:(DVD + Blu-ray)