A night in Cromer in the dreamy exhaustion that follows the completion of long distance walk – 96 miles from Thetford via Peddars Way and the Norfolk Coast Path – has put me in mind of an obscure British film I caught 4 years ago at the Bradford film Festival. WhiIe never making UK distribution – and quite understandably, to be honest – In love with Alma Cogan is still a charming, sweetly romantic film that captures the unexpected allure of this quirky little town in the northern corner of Norfolk, and looks at the passing of a kind of entertainment that’s almost gone – the end-of-the-pier summer variety show. Here’s the review I wrote then:
Filmed in and around the lovely, luminous Cromer pier, in one of the few remaining theatres of that kind, it’s the sentimental story of crusty old Norman (A lovely performance by Roger Lloyd Pack) and his attempts to keep the theatre unchanged and uncorrupted by the dead hand of bureaucracy. Salvation comes in the form of an Alma Cogan look-alike singer who wows ‘em all and provides an almost mythic reawakening of old and cold hearts. Who is Alma Cogan, I hear you ask? Well, as someone old enough to remember her songs playing on the Light Programme in my childhood (eek, I hardly dare admit that I remembered all the words of ‘Bell Bottom Blues’ as the impressive Catrine Kirkman, a real look- and sound-alike, pounded it out!), I can reveal she was one of the big names in UK music in the late 50s, her popularity fading as tastes changed and The Sixties washed away all of that chirpy tuneful schmaltz, big frocks and variety show stuff, though she remained a great hostess and party girl (tis even rumoured she had an affair with John Lennon) till her early death from cancer in 1966.
Whether she was ever quite as revered as this film makes out I doubt, but it’s a fair premise for a gentle plot that only goes too far when it strikes out into unnecessary melodrama involving wild seas and lifeboats, and irritatingly heavily signalled late-blossoming romance. Cromer in winter proves a fine characterful setting, and it’s great to hear real Norfolk accents rather than the generic rustic Mummerset we’re usually expected to swallow for anywhere east of Peterborough. Sentimental and stereotyped it may be, but it’s hard not to like its unaffected enthusiasm and good-heartedness.
Bradford Film Festival 2012