WFTB Score: 7/20
The plot: Bored with working at a bank and living with his ailing mum, odd fish Christie Malry takes up an accountancy course and discovers a design for life: whatever debits society takes from him, he will take back in anarchic, disruptive credits. However, social justice is in the eye of the beholder and Christie goes to ever greater lengths to settle his scores.
Like most young men, Christie Malry (Nick Moran) is out for money and sex, though both are hard to find when he’s doing a menial banking job and living with his distracted, cancer-afflicted mother (Shirley Anne Field). To further his career and allay fantasies of going postal at the bank, Christie embarks on a course to learn the principles of double-entry bookkeeping, as invented by Fra Luca Pacioli at the end of the 15th Century, while also getting a new job in Tapper’s sweet factory and meeting cocksure Headlam (Neil Stuke), who becomes a friend of sorts.
Christie hits upon a way of rationalising the perceived injustices of society – or ‘any bastard that gets in your face’, as he puts it – by using bookkeeping to keep a list of debits and credits. However, the credits, such as meeting agreeable butcher Carol (Kate Ashfield), can’t possibly keep up with debits like his wages being taxed or his mother’s death. Christie plans to make society pay in the biggest, most destructive ways imaginable.
Film budgets come in all sizes, from ludicrously small (Benjamin Sniddlegrass) to ludicrously big (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End), and Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry (based on a cult novel by B.S. Johnson) noticeably comes at the lower end of the scale. This wouldn’t be a huge problem if it just meant the sets were small and spartan, which they are, and in fact the film does a pretty good job of superimposing London around the action. Unfortunately, the plot requires the staging of explosions in a tax office, on a bus, and (as a childhood flashback) a collision between two trains; and since there was obviously no budget to create any real stunts (even in miniature), the filmmakers have had to do what they can with unsophisticated visual effects. The results are not disastrous, but they are both obvious and jarring.
There are other issues too: the acting is of varying quality, while portions of the script are head-scratchingly daft – a group of alternative-looking drinkers talk about ‘Pansexual chaos’, ‘total media war’ and a ‘living rock’n’roll wall of sound’, whatever one of those is.
The film of Christie Malry adds an entirely new storyline relating to Fra Pacioli (Marcello Mazzarella), his relationship with Leonard da Vinci (Mattia Sbragia) and the artist’s own devotion for his wayward assistant. It’s acted well enough and Sbragia makes us feel da Vinci’s torments as his love is wrenched away from him by the invasion of the French, but they don’t really mesh with Christie’s story or provide an effective backdrop or subtext to his actions. Nor do the inserted references to Princess Diana or War in the Middle East, though the film in places acts as an uncomfortable prophet of future events (if ‘9/11’ stopped this film gaining worldwide distribution, the depiction of a London bus getting blown up must have put off potential broadcasters post-‘7/7’).
Also, Tickell’s movie fails to find an equivalent to Johnson’s wonderfully self-conscious prose. Perhaps the non-linear style (which occasionally recalls Russ Meyer, in a low-key, British way) is a nod, but in general Christie Malry fails to capture any of the novel’s black humour, not least the disproportionality between the meagre credits and the enormous debts society racks up in Christie’s ledger.
For all that, the film does retain a power which is not simply due to the brilliant simplicity of Johnson’s central idea. The novel appeared in 1973, at a time when it would have chimed in nicely with the themes of Taxi Driver; seen as an English Travis Bickle, Malry is a fascinating character, and Moran – while emphasising his simple-mindedness to the full – portrays his alienation and misguided anger to good effect. Shirley Anne Field adds weight as Christie’s mum, while his unconventional relationship with Carol is also played out well, Ashfield making the most of a role which could have been merely window-dressing. She convinces as a woman seeing the good in a strange man until the truth finally emerges, in an unusual climax which – poor effects apart – ramps up the threat and potential horror, then undercuts it completely. Meanwhile, Luke Haines’ soundtrack underpins the action very nicely.
I couldn’t seriously claim that Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry is a success. It’s too cheaply made, and too bitty, to be a particularly satisfactory watching experience. You wonder what many of the scenes are doing in the film, and despair at how some others look. On the other hand, while the novel’s anti-capitalist slant is toned down, there’s still enough going on here to make Christie Malry worth seeking out. Think of it as a budget British take on the themes that made Fight Club great.