John Lewis is bored by his librarian's job and henpecked at home. Then Liz, wife of a local counciller, sets her sights on him. But this is risky stuff in a Welsh valleys town - if he and Liz ever manage to consummate their affair, that is.
- Splendid change-of-pace for Sellers
'Only Two Can Play' varies uncertainly between sex farce and comedy of manners, but it's an excellent film which gives Peter Sellers a better chance than usual to create a three-dimensional character, rather than relying on putty noses and showy accents. Talking of which: This film takes place in South Wales, and I was distressed by the pushmi-pullyu accents of several of the main characters. Sellers, Virginia Maskell and Richard Attenborough all have a go at doing Anglo-Welsh accents, but none of them manage to be consistent. The authentic Welsh Valleys accent of the excellent character actor Kenneth Griffith (as Sellers's workmate) only emphasises the other actors' dodgy accents. Mai Zetterling's Swedish accent hovers incongruously above the proceedings. (The dialogue establishes her as a war refugee.) Also, the unbilled child actress who plays Sellers's daughter Gwyneth has a very strong North Wales accent, which contrasts rather jarringly with the voices all round her. Refreshingly, this child actress gives an excellent performance.
Rather delightfully, 'Only Two Can Play' was actually filmed in South Wales, and it did my heart good to see the graceful hills and row houses of this region as it looked in the early 1960s. This film is full of tiny pleasures, celebrating the British way of life in this post-war period. Little details like the bag of salt inside the packet of crisps, a dialogue reference to conkers (a game which English schoolboys play with chestnuts), or a glimpse of a 1960s page-three girl well and truly pleased me. Even the toilet with the flush-chain next to the washbasin (something which I remember all too painfully) brought back a nostalgic smile to me, now that I no longer have to face this horror in my daily reality. Also, the dialogue includes some delightful figures of speech which are authentic to the period but which are no longer heard in modern Britain ... such as when Sellers nervously admits he has "a case of the screaming ab-dabs".
'Only Two Can Play' has a very coherent and believable plot, which is no surprise as this film is based on a novel by Kingsley Amis. Sellers plays John Lewis, an assistant librarian who has a chance for a promotion (and a much-needed rise in wages) if he has an affair with Liz Gruffydds-Williams (played by the very sexy Mai Zetterling), the wife of the local council chairman. Lewis and his wife Jean (the beautiful Virginia Maskell) live in a walk-up flat, sharing a bathroom with all the other tenants. When Jean learns that her husband is cheating on her (or at least trying very hard to do so), Virginia Maskell's reaction is very believable and touching. Full disclosure: I briefly worked with Miss Maskell a few years after she made this film; she was a profoundly talented actress but extremely insecure with it. Her ultimate plunge into depression and suicide was a great tragedy.
A fine contingent of British supporting actors are here, including John Le Mesurier ... who seems to have got a look-in during every important English comedy film of this period. Graham Stark, whom I usually find very funny, does an oddly unpleasant turn here as some sort of ill-defined pervert whose precise kink is never established. Raymond Huntley (as the councillor) and Meredith Edwards have too little to do. Richard Attenborough gives an excellent performance as a poncy intellectual, looking like a cross between George Orwell's "fruit juice-drinking, sandal-wearing" pseud and Rolf Harris. When Sellers refers to Attenborough as 'the Catcher in the Rye' I nearly died laughing.
This film is not (and doesn't try to be) one of Peter Sellers's slapstick-fests: instead, it's a character study which gives Sellers a chance to show off his **acting** talents rather than his powers of mimicry.
SLIGHT SPOILERS: American audiences won't get all the references here. After Sellers breaks off his affair with Zetterling, she acquires a very servile boyfriend whom Sellers suggests she should bring to Cruft's: this is an annual London dog show. The very last shot in the film contains a sight gag which is funny and poignant both at the same go. To strengthen his marriage, Sellers chucks his library job and operates a travelling library (a bookmobile) so that he and his wife can drive through the Welsh countryside together, bringing books to villagers. As they drive down the road, we see a large letter "L" affixed to the rear mudguard of their van. British viewers will recognise this as a learner's plate, which student drivers are required to display. Viewed symbolically, it's a sweetly funny joke: librarian Sellers is still learning his way on the road of life, but now he and his wife are taking that journey together.
I'll rate 'Only Two Can Play' 9 out of 10, with only a few examples of bad shot-matching to deprive this movie of a perfect 10. This movie is an excellent change of pace for Peter Sellers.
- wonderful little Peter Sellers portrayal of a desperate Welsh librarian.
This is a terrific example of a number of little English gems that Sellers made before his international stardom as Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther. The writing and directing are wonderful as is the great black and white cinematography that captures a dismal Welsh mining town. See it if you can find it.
Peter Sellers .... John Lewis
Mai Zetterling .... Liz
Virginia Maskell .... Jean
Richard Attenborough .... Probert
David Davies .... Benyon
Kenneth Griffith .... Jenkins (as Kenneth Griffiths)
Maudie Edwards .... Mrs. Davies
Meredith Edwards .... Clergyman
Gillian Vaughan .... Maureen (as Gillian Vaughn)
Graham Stark .... Hyman (as Graham Starke)
John Arnatt .... Bill
Frederick Piper .... Mr. Davies
Lindy Cope .... Bridget
Sheila Manahan .... Mrs. Jenkins
Eynon Evans .... Town Hall Clerk.
Runtime: 106 min
Black and White
based on a novel by Kingsley Amis: That Uncertain Feeling.
/ This film is not (and doesn't try to be) one of Peter Sellers's slapstick-fests: instead, it's a character study which gives Sellers a chance to show off his **acting** talents rather than his powers of mimicry.