In the first of a new series Pf editor John Pinching prescribes a double dose of feature films in which pharmaceuticals have made memorable cameos. This month the line up includes a daft hospital caper and everyone’s favourite heroin addiction yarn.
The goodwill, joy and relentless optimism of Danny Boyle’s momentous Olympic opening ceremony made Trainspotting seem like a distant memory – a brilliant germ festering in the darker echelons of the director’s CV. This heroin laced, quintessentially Scottish gem from the mid-nighties remains Boyle’s masterpiece. It managed brilliantly to combine bold cinematic shots, with the raw intensity of independent films, while juxtaposing pure fantasy with sobering realism. The film’s primary focus is a group of heroin addicts, imprisoned by their all-encompassing addiction.
Its central protagonist, Renton, and his hopeless companions, ‘Sick Boy’ and ‘Spud’, will do anything to get a fix. If this means striking a deal with AIDS and cancer patients for their pharmaceutical drugs, then so be it. This insatiable appetite for weird drug cocktails prompted the following memorable piece of narration, “We took morphine, diamorphine, cyclozine, codeine, temazepam, nitrezepam, phenobarbitone, sodium amytal dextropropoxyphene, methadone, nalbuphine, pethidine, pentazocine, buprenorphine, dextromoramide chlormethiazole. The streets are awash with drugs that you can have for unhappiness and pain, and we took them all. Fuck it, we would have injected Vitamin C if only they’d made it illegal.”
Renton then insists that middle class consumers of pharmaceutical drugs, like his mother are, in their own “socially acceptable way, also drug addicts.”
As his habit reaches a nadir, Renton takes a massive overdose and ends up being revived in a destitute hospital corridor by exasperated and world-weary staff – a far cry from Boyle’s somewhat misty eyed NHS view this summer.
Carry on Matron (1972)
Granted, there haven’t been many hilarious comedies about the contraceptive pill, but this, is a notable exception. The ‘Carry On’ team’s usual highly sophisticated tapestry of innuendo, surfaces in the familiar surroundings of an NHS hospital and, naturally enough, medicinal madness ensues.
The man with ‘a face like an unmade bed’, Sid James, plays the ringleader of a hapless gang, intent on stealing medication and selling it on the black market (like the pre-internet equivalent of those nuisance ‘Viagra’ emails).
In order to infiltrate the hospital, and find out where supplies of ‘the pill’ are kept, Sid convinces his son, Cyril (Kenneth Cope) to masquerade as a female nurse. There are awkward consequences, such as being repeatedly molested by Terry Scott (Dr Prodd) and having to get changed in front of another woman. Eventually the scam is exposed by alert patients in the maternity ward. When threats are made to call the police, however, the gang finally reveal that Cyril is a man, and the feuding sides reach an agreement to keep their dirty secrets!
The film’s other notable performances come from Kenneth Williams – whose pomposity is matched only by the weirdness of Charles Hawtrey – and Hattie Jacques, who never tires of her role as ‘matron’. Meanwhile, Barbara Windsor, Jackie Piper and Valerie Leon provide the ‘skirt’.