The Ruling Class – Rediscovering ‘Unman, Wittering and Zigo’ – (UK 1971 – 102 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - June 25, 2017
The Ruling Class – Rediscovering ‘Unman, Wittering and Zigo’ – (UK 1971 – 102 mins)

Based on a 1958 radio play by Giles Cooper, the eerie obscurity ‘Unman, Wittering and Zigo’ is a cult sleeper that’s been strangely unavailable for decades. An intriguing psycho-thriller about a class of posh boys lording it over their teacher, it makes the troublesome teens of ‘To Sir With Love’ seem like pussycats.

Soon after arriving at “Chantry Boys Boarding School”, new teacher John Ebony (David Hemmings) is quietly informed by his polite pupils that they have killed John’s Predecessor after he gave them detention. Disbelieving this, Ebony slowly comes to realize that the boys may in fact be telling the truth, and that both he and his wife Sylvia (Carolyn Seymour) may also be in danger.

A slow-burner for sure, there’s an air of uneasy tension running throughout the film. The isolated setting with its seemingly alive dangerous cliff edges and deadly crashing waves, certainly add to the menacing surroundings of the school environment. One of my favourite scenes is the one early on when the smiling boys calmly inform Ebony that they had killed his predecessor, and that he’d better stay in line or he’ll be next. The most frightening scene has Ebony’s wife being chased around a darkened gym by about twenty of the boys, who threaten to gang rape her.

David Hemmings was very good as the tormented and naive teacher, as was the underrated Carolyn Seymour as his wife. Seymour had a memorable role the following year opposite Peter O’Toole, in the wonderful black comedy ‘The Ruling Class’, before finding a level of fame on television in the excellent sci-fi series ‘Survivors’ (’75). Douglas Wilmer played the disbelieving headmaster, and Tony Haygarth was a fellow teacher and Hemmings’ only ally. Playing some of the intimidating pupils were Michael Kitchen, Tom Owen and Michael Cashman, who would all go on to became familiar faces on British television.

Director John Mackenzie did a first-rate job here, slowly allowing the tension to creep in. Mackenzie would later go on to have worldwide success with ‘The Long Good Friday’ (’80). The expressive cinematography was by Geoffrey Unsworth, who had photographed ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (’68), and would go on to win Oscars for both ‘Cabaret’ (’72) and ‘Tess’ (’79).

A “bucket list” movie that may not be as great as its reputation suggests,’Unman, Wittering and Zigo’ is deliberately paced and suffers from a somewhat anticlimactic ending. With nods to 1960’s ‘Village of the Damned’ and Lindsay Anderson’s controversial ‘If’ (’68), it’s nethertheless a mostly engaging movie that cult enthusiasts need to see at least once, though I did find it more rewarding upon my second viewing.

This post was written by

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *