Letter To Brezhnev

As someone who grew up in the area, it has taken me far too long to get around to Frank Clarke’s mid-80s, Liverpool-set romantic comedy. (Letterboxd user Mark Cunliffe’s Mersey Movies list gave me the inspiration to do so, helped by the fact that the BFI recently put out a rather lovely Blu-Ray.) The story follows two lively young women (Alexandra Pigg, Margi Clarke) on a night out in the city, during which they hook up with a pair of Russian sailors (Peter Firth, Alfred Molina) who are briefly on shore leave. Echoing the stances of the two iconic Liver Birds that sit on top of the Royal Liver Building, Pigg’s character Elaine looks out to the rest of the world, dreaming of an escape, while Clarke’s Teresa keeps her focus on the city, content to stay, work and play… for now. The pair complement each other, though each is also forthright in their own way, and combative, and to an extent hampered by the much-reported ails the city endured throughout the decade. If the dialogue seems a little awkward (not helped by some of the delivery) and the slang a little dated, the film does at least ring true in terms of its presentation of Liverpool nightlife and family life at the time, and of the port city’s general warmth towards outsiders (these girls aren’t swallowing any western propaganda about the Soviet threat, for one thing). Clarke, Pigg and Firth make an impression, and Molina does his best with the only underwritten character from the foursome, smiling genially through most of his scenes. There are some stirring shots of the city’s mid-80s waterfront and skyline, too, which have changed considerably since, as have the city’s fortunes more generally. Letter to Brezhnev may have lost some of its impact over the years, but at the time of release it must surely have been considered a striking, upbeat and optimistic tale, delivered when Liverpool needed it, having endured the Toxteth riots, factory closures and mass unemployment, increased amounts of heroin on the streets and more. I wish I liked it more than I do. (***)