Dame Edith Evans is most remembered for her marvellous and much imitated exclamation of “A hand bag?” as Lady Bracknell in the 1952 film adaptation of The Importance Of Being Earnest, but in 1968 she won a Best British Actress BAFTA and was nominated for a Oscar for her role as Mrs. Ross, an elderly lady, poor and alone in her flat, living on benefits, who hears voices in the taps and the silent wireless and believes her neighbour is being kept against her will in the flat above.
Bryan Forbes’s film, based on a 1961 book by Robert Nicolson, is as bleak as they come. Frequently confused and deluded (although at times keenly observant) Mrs. Ross is visited by her thieving son who hides money in her flat which she discovers and believes is her long awaited inheritance. As Mrs. Ross grandly tells the Welfare Board she no longer requires assistance and plans a trip to Barbados her real troubles are only just beginning. I won’t to say too much more about events as I never understand why folk would want a full synopsis before watching.
There are no laughs or light hearted scenes to be found. With the exception of the man at the Welfare Board there are few likeable characters, they’re all out for themselves, usually at the expense of the vulnerable Mrs. Ross. Made in 1966 and released in the summer of 1967, The Whisperers was filmed in black and white, which only underscores the dark and gloomy atmosphere and increases the kitchen-sink feel. The clues to the year are few and far between (an old man looking blankly at a lava lamp and a couple of mildly beatniky teenagers) and the crumbling, decaying, slum streets which Mrs. Ross gingerly walks, filled with stray cats scavenging in dustbins, adds to the end-of-days mood.
Evans fully deserved the accolades for her role and there are plenty of other familiar faces to spot throughout: Nanette Newman, Gerald Sims, Avis Bunnage, Eric Portman, Michael Robbins, Leonard Rossiter and Oliver MacGreevy. It’s a tremendous, deeply moving film.