The Fast Lady (1963)

Stanley Baxter, Leslie Phillips, James Robertson Justice, Julie Christie
Dir. Ken Annakin

There is the outside chance that someone north of the border (Scotland, not Canada) might read the Kenneth Williams review and say what about Stanley Baxter? Well, what about him? I can’t say I was a fan of his until I saw him in The Fast Lady, alongside Leslie Phillips, Julie Christie and Sir Lancelot Spratt. Sorry, James Robertson Justice playing another incarnation of Sir Lancelot Spratt.

Fast_lady_movieposterBaxter plays the upright, sensible cyclist Murdoch Troon falling for Claire Chingford (Julie Christie), daughter of the fearsome Sir Lancelot Spratt, Charlie Chingford. Trouble is she wants him to take her for a drive and he can’t drive, so in comes greasy Leslie Phillips with a solution. Phillips plays Freddie Fox, a local car dealer trying to flog a humungus Bentley, the Fast Lady, a car perfect for Baxter’s driving lessons.

In hindsight the film wheels out all the usual set pieces, pratfalls and catastrophes, but the cast are the key to all this. A perfect blend of the quirky, beligerent, smooth and hip. Baxter in particular shines as Murdoch Troon and you start to remember that he was no slouch; a star of stage, television, cabaret and film, Baxter was the real deal, a chameleon able to mould himself into any character serious or funny. He’s still going, still promoting and advocating young dramatic talent and seems to pop up on Radio 4 every year.

And if you’re wondering, he fails his driving test, but still gets the girl. He even wins the admiration of Sir Lancelot Spratt (damn, I have to stop doing that) Charlie Chingford. 1963 eh, the year anything was possible.

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