Blu-ray Review: Rita, Sue and Bob Too - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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The 1987 British production Rita, Sue and Bob Too is a film about dogs. The men depicted in the unabashedly amoral dramedy are the chief examples: possessive, territorial, and sometimes prone to violent outbursts. The women, however, are not exempt from partaking in generally animalistic behavior. They’re uncouth and unconcerned about the ramifications of their actions. They take what they want, anyone else be damned. And I say “women” with the full knowledge that the titular females at the center of it are teenagers in high school. We’re never entirely sure what age Rita (Siobhan Finneran) or Sue (Michelle Holmes) exactly are, but it’s probably safe to say they’re above the age of consent. One could almost (but not quite) argue that they’re manipulating middle-aged Bob (George Costigan) as much as he them.

Then there are the literal dogs that litter the council estates upon which much of the action takes place. Director Alan Clarke cues us several times, pointedly showing some strays fighting early on. These canines are everywhere, with nowhere to go and no one to love them. We’re even informed late in the film that Britain’s stray problem has indeed reached something approaching epidemic proportions. The metaphor is subtly left in the background and is all the more effective for it. This unusual film is now available on Blu-ray for the first time via Twilight Time’s limited edition (3,000 copies pressed) release.

Rita Sue and Bob Too cover (215x280).jpgSome 27 years after its release, Rita, Sue and Bob Too still offers a bracing portrait of bottom feeders and lowlifes. What’s extraordinary is that the trio of leads, not to mention much of the supporting cast, embraces their lot in life with gleeful abandon. A summary of the plot would suggest something quite depressing, yet the film manages to sidestep that impression. Bob isn’t getting any from his apparently semi-frigid wife Michelle (Lesley Sharp); she’s disgusted even by the act of French kissing. So he turns to his teenage babysitters, Rita and Sue. They’re best friends who do literally everything together. The sex isn’t particularly sexy, nor was it meant to be. Bob usually does his thing with the marginally more forthright Sue first, followed in short order by Rita (Bob has an impressively short refractory period for a 40-ish man).

And so Rita, Sue and Bob Too unspools from there. Will Rita and Sue’s friendship withstand their regular dalliances with Bob, even when he begins showing a clear preference for one over the other? Bob is a particularly despicable individual, yet as played by Costigan he manages to avoid coming across as the sexual predator he is. He might not be likeable, but he’s so blithely unaware of the potential emotional damage to which he’s subjecting Rita and Sue that we almost forget he’s such a shallow bastard. Meanwhile, Rita and Sue carry on with little concern for the feelings of Bob’s wife and the impact that their affair will have on his family. Their relationships with their own respective families are practically non-existent. Sue’s father, Kevin (Willie Ross), is the only one who makes anything more than a cursory impression (solely due to his status as a falling-down drunk).

As a portrait of low and lower middle-class apathy, Rita, Sue and Bob Too remains vital despite the dated trappings of its era. The naturalistic performances by the leads (then-unknown Holmes and Finneran continue to act; the latter plays Sarah O’Brien on Downton Abbey) is key to the film’s enduring ability to captivate viewers. Both director Alan Clarke and screenwriter Andrea Dunbar would be dead within three years of the film’s release. The former passed of cancer at age 54, the latter of a brain hemorrhage at age 29. Even the briefest of glances at Dunbar’s bio suggests she very much wrote from experience, having lived a seemingly much darker, more tragic version of the lifestyle we see in Rita, Sue and Bob Too.

As this film is the kind of obscurity one never expects to see on Blu-ray, minor shortcomings in the Blu-ray presentation are more easily forgivable. Shot by two-time BAFTA winner and two-time Emmy nominee Ivan Strasburg, Rita, Sue and Bob Too has a bland look (probably intentional) that conveys the mundanity of its environment. But there’s no getting around the general lack of clarity and fine detail in the image. Wider shots are occasionally downright blurry-looking, but for the most part the presentation is easily watchable (if not strikingly attractive, plus it’s hard to say how much of the softness is inherent in the original cinematography). The DTS-HD MA mono soundtrack is a bit thin, but dialogue is front-and-center. The audio presents no problems.

In addition to the customary isolated score track (the late, great Michael Kamen did the music here) the Blu-ray also includes an audio commentary by film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman. After sampling their discussion over a variety of scenes, it’s clearly a relaxed commentary that packs in a lot of background information. It’s a great addition and I’m really glad Twilight Time has often been including tracks by these folks. Kirgo also wrote the new booklet essay, as she does for all Twilight Time releases.

Visit Screen Archives for ordering information, as Rita, Sue and Bob Too is strictly limited to a 3,000 copy pressing.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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