Cat no. 1733

A Shilling Life

Running time31:56 Colour Sound 1963 Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

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Drama of a student's experiences in Cambridge.


AmateurStudent Film

The film begins with a young man carrying a suitcase through the residential streets of Cambridge. He reaches a terraced house and is shown to a bedsitting room by a landlady. He begins to settle in although he looks far from happy. There are shots of the room as he unpacks clothes, places a few ornaments around and loads his books onto a bookshelf. Absorbed in a book, he breaks an ornament. The next sequence shows him leaving the house on a bicycle. In the view down Jesus Lane, All Saints' Church with its spire is in the background. There are overhead shots of a paved area. At a new concrete building, he meets other students and then walks on alone, the camera filming artistic shots of the concrete pillars. There are overhead shots of a spiral staircase. The student is in his room studying and getting bored. He plays with a toy, combs his hair and then looks out of a cracked window pane. He is shown on his bicycle approaching the University Library. The next shot shows the exterior of the Kinema on Mill Road with people leaving. He walks home through the streets of Cambridge. There are shots of shops and residential streets. He passes through a park. There are children on swings. It gets dark. The undergraduate enters the Jolly Swan. Interior scenes of the public house show people drinking and playing darts. A man step dances. The undergraduate gets drunk and has a good time dancing. He arrives home and collapses on his bed.

The next sequence is a colour sequence in silence. It shows shots of the sky and of the treetops. There are shots of a park. This is followed by shots of a columned building with a large staircase. A young woman in a red sari-type garment is on the stairs. The undergraduate is there too. Slowly the woman walks through the streets of Cambridge. Others go about their business. There is a shot of an urban clearance site which gives way to a cleared area of forest. From here the undergraduate enters a walled garden. In the garden people sit talking and laughing. Drinks are passed round. The last shot in this sequence shows the man running through the concrete corridor pictured earlier.

The next scene returns to black and white and is accompanied by music. It shows a potter's wheel and then a group of potters at work in a workshop. The pot collapses and the potter begins again. Back in his bedsitting room, the undergraduate is reading and smoking on his bed. Bored and frustrated he knocks the ashtray off the bed. Under the bed he finds a gun, which he holds to his face. He makes to shoot at the camera but the gun fails to work. He leaves the house and takes his bicycle, pedaling furiously through the streets of Cambridge. There are shots of the City Centre showing Hills Road, St. Andrews Street and Regent Street as well as shots of residential streets. A group sit in a cafe opposite the market. There are market scenes showing local people out shopping. These include shots of a pet stall where a girl holds a tortoise. A group of students, including the undergraduate, now casually dressed, also shop at the market. There are overhead shots of the Cambridge streets as the group walk along. The young woman from the stairs sequence passes them in the street. The group meet up with another male student and continue walking.

Background Information:

Peter Graham was a food writer focused on the specialities of the French region where he lived. He was also a film maker and film writer. His two other films were:
Edith Piaf (documentary, 1968)
Au bout des fusils/Gunshot (1971)
He published A Dictionary of the Cinema (1964) and the anthology The New Wave (1968). The latter was reprinted in an expanded edition in 2009 as The French New Wave: Critical Landmarks (2009), co-edited with Ginette Vincendeau. A new, further expanded edition will be published by Bloomsbury in 2021. Peter Graham died in 2020.

Shama Habibullah is a film producer who has worked on film and television series including Gandhi 1982, Octopussy 1983, A Passage To India 1984, The Golden Child 1986, Sixth Happiness 1997 and Queenie 1997.

Simon Standage is a violinist and conductor, best known for playing and conducting music of the baroque and classical eras on original instruments. He has been a professor of baroque violin at the Royal Academy of Music since 1983, and taught baroque violin and conducting at the Akademie für Alte Musik Oberlausitz in Görlitz from 1993.

The film director Stephen Frears - mis-spelled Steven on the credits - first appears at 27.05, at far right in the cafe scene. His films and television dramas include:
My Beautiful Launderette 1985, Prick up Your Ears 1987, Sammy And Rosie Get Laid 1987, Dangerous Liaisons 1988, The Grifters 1990, Mary Reilly 1996, Dirty Pretty Things 2002, Philomena 2013, A Very English Scandal 2018 and Quiz 2020.

Richard Boston first appears (with cigarette) at 17.30. He became an author, journalist and Real Ale campaigner, and died in 2006.

At 27:08, the newspaper front page headline reads 'Atomic Expansion?'.

Notes by Professor Charles Barr about the scene selected for the film still at 8.32:
'The film allegedly showing at the Kinema is 'Les Aventures de Harry Dixon', a famous UNMADE project of Alain Resnais! - one of the New Wave directors who made such an impact around the time of A Shilling Life. Indeed, Peter interviewed him not long after, in Paris, and established a kind of friendship. The in-joke of the displayed film title - which must have taken some effort to set up - is very typical of the excitement around new forms of cinema that was strong in Cambridge at the time and that helped to inspire A Shilling Life (other commentators have seen the influence of Antonioni, an equally iconic figure in early-60s cinema).'

Featured Buildings:

All Saints' Church, Jesus Lane; Cambridge University Library

Cambridge Film Society With The London School Of Film Technique

Peter Graham; Shama Habibullah

Christopher Thompson

Antonio Marques

Peter Graham; Shama Habibullah

Antonio Marques

Simon Standage (composer); Simon Standage (performer); John Penney (performer); Noel Ikin (performer); Camilla de Souza (performer)

David Quarmby

David Nial (assistant producer); Keith Allams (production advisor); Eduardo Ferros (lighting); Stephen Mullin (titles)


Lawrence Wyatt
Richard Boston
Elizabeth Carmichael
Sebastian Carter
Sue Landen
Sally Richmond
Andrew Rossabi
Roddy Taylor
Yvonne Adams
Anita Auden
Stephen Frears
Malcolm Warner
John Anderson
David Barber
Alison Cabot
Inga Demant
Eduardo Ferros
Elizabeth Graham
Lionel Grigson
John Hart
Barbara Hauber
David Hudson
E.W. Jefferies
Stephen Mullin
Micheline Samuels

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