REVIEW: The Siege of Sidney Street

  • Released through: MidCentury
  • Duration: 90 minutes
  • Format: Black and White
  • Released: 1960
  • Certificate: PG (UK)

 Character: Peter Piatkow (A.K.A. ‘Peter the Painter’).

SIDNEY

PETER as Peter the Painter with Nicole Berger as Sara

The Siege of Sidney Street, a dramatization of the famed battle between a gang of desperados and 150 armed police officers, is strong, well-made entertainment that did the British film industry a power of good. The opening scene has the kind of impact that is necessary to television, but doubly effective on the big screen. And thereafter, the film maintains a tremendous pace with a series of climaxes – each in staggering succession.

A flashback introduces the events leading up to the Siege. A gang of Slavic émigrés (“Anarchists, atheists and vegetarians, as one pub landlord truculently describes them) are committing violent armed robberies to collect funds for “The Cause” (since this is 1911, there is of course no need to ask what cause!).

They are a mixed bunch: some sincere fanatics. Some riff-raff… and one burglar. Things, however, inevitably begin to go wrong when the gang execute one of their number, whose carelessness causes the death of two of their colleagues during a wages snatch.

The loot is hidden by their leader – the enigmatic ‘Peter The Painter’, in a room rented by his girlfriend, Sara.

Posing as a wanted man, Inspector Mannering begins searching for the criminals haunts for the gang and befriends Sara after he saves her from an assault by the anarchist, Yoska.

After some sample skirmishes, that includes the shooting of three policemen, the gang’s violent intentions are compellingly established as they are finally perused by the police to a hideout at 100, Sidney Street. A siege by 100’s of police and troops ends with the house in flames and two of the three remaining anarchists dead.

Peter escapes amongst the sightseers, but too late to save Sara who dies from a broken heart.

OVERVIEW

Peter-Wyngarde-kisses-Nicole-Berger

The Siege of Sidney Street is a film which is basically uncluttered with pretentions beyond pure entertainment. And it entertains magnificently well.

Dramatic lighting and rich photography of actual settings – drenched streets, crisp, frosty lines of trees; bleak backstreet lodgings, and a sinister period mood.

Despite the rather hangdog Sinden as a stoolpigeon with an upper-class accent, and Kieron Moore tendency to overplay his hand, the film achieves a certain realism that transcends the level of bad man versus “our man”.

PETER’s portrayal of the handsome yet ruthless gang leader, ‘Peter the Painter’, is ably partnered by Nicole Berger – his loyal yet long-suffering girlfriend. This was a love story as well as a gang man’s siege with a sad and pathetic ending.

On the whole the acting is constantly good, and there are several neat cameos of minor characters, including the then Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, grappling with a Havana as he stations himself (inevitably!) in the front line, and some solid performances from supporting players.

Several ironic sequences occur, in fact, when characters are made aware of conflicts between 2causes” and human conflicts. These more subtle levels of characterisation in a thriller might have easily confused the plot, or sentimentalised it, were it not for the deft storytelling of Jimmy Sangster and understanding direction of Robert S. Baker.

If there is a weak link in the film, then it must be the dialogue, as it’s prone to the excessive use of the shorthand of thriller writing: “Peter wouldn’t like it” or, “It’s better this way, Sara”.

Even in a film that ends in a holocaust, there is possibly unnecessary emphasis on homicide throughout – like one of the more groundling-orientated Elizabethan plays. But violence is implicit in the subject, and rarely degenerates here into the witless bang-banging that replaces originality in so many of today’s movies.

CRITICS COMMENTS

Harry-Brogan-and-Peter-Wyngarde

Whenever PETER WYNGARDE appears on television a cry goes up from many fans who write to us asking: “Why don’t we ever see Peter in a really big role on the cinema screen?”

Well, you haven’t agitated in vain. For here MR. WYNGARDE is the mainspring of a fascinatingly different spy tale. His sharply elegant good looks mask the mind of a fanatic prepared to sacrifice life and happiness for his chosen cause. Yet he’s also a man who can inspire the kind of love in a girl that suffocates every other emotion.

Both as the icy fanatic and the passionate lover, PETER is utterly convincing. The dark brown voice can be as warm as a caress; as ruthless as a razor slash. That he should make such a devastating impact in his first sizeable role will surprise no one who has seen him on television or the stage.

What is his appeal? I think it is the aura of excitement he carries around with him. And in this film, the excitement isn’t misplaced.

Margaret Hinxman: The Daily Mail, October 25th, 1960.

 

The Hellfire Club: The OFFICIAL PETER WYNGARDE Appreciation Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/813997125389790/

 

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