|Index||7 reviews in total|
I was surprised to see so few comments on what I think is an excellent
play, by the very talented Jack Rosenthal.
Non British, and even non-Londoners are unlikely to find much of interest, but anyone who knows the capital well will find this an enjoyable little film.
It concerns a group of Londoners who are all on the same 'knowledge' course, the gruelling test set by the Metropolitan Police which all cabbies must take before they get their coveted 'green badge' or taxi driving licence.
The test involves learning every street and public building within six miles of central London - a massive feat of memory that only 30 per cent of applicants manage to pass. The students must spend every waking hour cycling or motorbiking around London so that they know the city back to front.
It is this challenge that provides the dramatic tension and much of the humour of the play, as the test begins to take over every aspect of the students' lives, and leads their wives and girlfriends to despair.
The tour de force is by the late Nigel Hawthorne, who plays 'Dracula', the extremely strict test examiner, who behaves rudely and oddly to try to simulate the difficulties the drivers will experience when in their taxis.
Mr Rosenthal's light touch on the big issues of life is much missed in our present era of earnest, heavy handed drama, and the film is also a delightful period piece showing a London which in many respects has not changed to this day, but in other respects could almost be in the nineteenth century.
I was delighted to see this gem of a film available on DVD. Despite
being a 'TV Movie' and shot on 16mm, it provided a wonderful insight
into the different types of people who wanted to become a 'London
cabbie', along with their foibles and family commitments. Even the most
hapless of candidates, 'Titanic' with his uncommunicative wife, it was
possible to see how Jack Rosenthal was able to craft an often funny and
sometimes tragic snippet of London life into an entertaining 90
Originally premiered as a vehicle for Mick Ford (pun intended), the quality of the acting from an ensemble cast including Michael Elphic, Nigel Hawthorne, Jonathan Lynn, Lesley Joseph and Maureen Lipman (Mrs Rosenthal) meant Mick may have had top billing, but he had to work hard in the face of such competing talents.
Even 15 years after its 1991 release, it is still as fresh as ever!
I first saw "The Knowledge" during a Thames Television marathon on one
of the local independent stations in Los Angeles back when it was new.
I enjoyed it very much along with danger UXB.
That a movie I saw once over twenty year ago should stick so well in my memory is a testament to it's originality and the quality of the performances by the cast.
I looked for a DVD copy here in the U.S.A. And found none. I finally gambled and bought a UK DVD off Ebay and was delighted to find that it has no Region Code. So those of us that would like to see this little gem can get a copy.
Just to correct something in a previous review here, I don't believe
this film is only for people who know London, it's a case of a very
specific situation being used to make universal comments. Jack
Rosenthal says in an introduction to the published script that it was
meant to be about characters who, by going though this gruelling
Knowledge test, gain some measure of self-knowledge.
I think it's one of the most perfectly-written dramas I've seen: technically it's supremely adept at conveying quite complex details but it's also joyous in how it involves you. At the start you know no more about this London Knowledge test than the main characters but you get scooped up right along with them until it's vitally important to you. You become tremendously proud of those characters who succeed, and you are crushed for those who don't. Especially one whose downfall, without giving anything anyway, will make your hands fly to your face.
Also just as a point of fact, Nigel Hawthorne's character, Mr Burgess, is called the Vampire, not Dracula. You don't need to know this, I'm not saying it's crucial, but it's a measure of the drama: once you've seen this, you will want everyone to and you will evangelise about its every detail.
I hope you get to see it.
I must have seen this on the television when it was first broadcast some decades ago. I thought it was brilliant then, and as I remember so much of it now I may have been right. While I have lived in and around London I cannot call myself a Londoner and do not know it at all well - who does other than taxi drivers? Once the viewer understands the premise; that here is a group of men trying to learn the seemingly unlearn-able and rise to the status of demigods, then the rest is sheer joy. The characters are well contrasted, their family relationships are equally diverse, and so differently affected by the events of the film. Don't think this is a documentary - it is pure drama, and The Knowledge is one of the characters. I have never seen anything like this film, before or since. Watch it!
As someone who used to spend hours driving around the backstreets of
North London in an attempt to avoid the horrific congestion, this film
immediately appealed. Throw in my interest in what London was like back
in the late 70s and you have the basic premise for my version of TV
heaven! On paper the film ticked all the right boxes, and having just
watched "The Knowledge" the actual movie itself certainly lived up to,
if not exceeded, my high expectations.
Visually, I was surprised how different London looked back then (I lived in Islington in the 90s, long after gentrification had transformed the area). It truly came across as grimy, tatty and down-at-heel. London may still have bad housing estates, but the general feel of the place is much cleaner, brighter and pleasant nowadays (based on what this movie shows rather than my own memories).
As for the story and the acting, well top marks obviously go to Nigel Hawthorne as The Vampire. Absolutely brilliant! He acts deliberately unpredictably, alternating between total straight-faced severity and surreal mindgames in order to unnerve the Knowledge Boys as he puts them through test after test.
All in all this was an excellent, thoroughly enjoyable trip back into a very specific time and place that I find endlessly fascinating. But even if you're not especially interested in London circa 1979, you'll still enjoy following the witty dialogue and likable characters of "The Knowledge".
The Knowledge is a typical British comedy for the period. To someone who is
not familiar of the process of becoming a London cabby the film is bound to
seem very average with a few laughs from a few old faces.
The Knowledge however comes into its own for Knowledge boys like myself or their wife's who know what these poor individuals are going through. And find yourself comparing incidents of your own to that of the characters.
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