On the surface, A Nice Girl Like Me seems to fit into that curious late Sixties sub-genre of films about sexually precocious young girls – everything from Lolita to Twinky and Baby Love. Films, basically, that you can’t imagine anyone daring to make today. The ‘nymphet’ movies, you might call them. And to a degree, you’d be right to but the film into that group of movies, particularly when you think how disparate in style they actually are. But in reality, the film doesn’t really seem to belong to the genre, even if its main character is a young woman who mixes naiveté and knowingness. It’s actually much more charming than most of the movies it seems related to, and the central character is less a manipulator than an idealist. It’s probably closer in feel to Georgie Girl than anything else.
Candy (Barbara Ferris) is plucked from her boarding school on the event of her father’s death, and sent to live with a pair of maiden aunts. Fearing that she will end up just like them, she takes advantage of her inheritance and heads off to Paris, ostensibly to better her French. There, she’s seduced (or so it seems) by a cartoon beatnik, Pierre (Christopher Guinee), who feigns boredom while quoting terrible poetry before having his way with her. Returning to England, she takes up residence in her father’s London home, where caretaker Savage (Harry Andrews) has remained in residence. She confesses to Savage that she is pregnant, but the twist here is that she has become pregnant deliberately, wanting a child to complete her family. Savage sees her through the pregnancy and the odd couple raise the child, Valentine.
Candy then takes a two week holiday in Venice, where she meets feckless American draft dodger Ed (William Hinnant) and spends a couple of days – and nights – with him before returning home, having suggested marriage but been – understandably – rebuffed. But she doesn’t arrive back in London empty-handed – a woman thrusts a baby into her arms at the train station and Candy decides to raise this child too, despite the fury of Savage, who warns her that she’s ruining her life. As the ‘family’ start to run out of money, Candy finds that her brief dalliance in Venice has left her pregnant again, putting even more pressure on the finances. Will she be forced into a marriage of convenience with one-eyed diplomat and former childhood neighbour Freddie (James Villiers) in order to save her family?
That A Nice Girl Like Me would have once been seen as daring and scandalous is a sign of how much society has changed in forty years – I very much doubt anyone would be especially shocked these days (apart perhaps from the Daily Express) at the tale of a young woman who gets pregnant outside marriage not once but twice, and with different fathers to boot! But robbed of its scandal, the film becomes a lot more entertaining, I imagine. And it’s admirable that a film made at a time when there were still Homes for Unwed Mothers treats its central character with such affection. Candy might be an idealist and rather naïve – and the film doesn’t try to make her out to be some sort of saint by any means – but she’s also genuinely lovely and well meaning. Her search for love might be a little desperate (especially as she doesn’t seem to mind if it romantic or maternal love) but there’s no doubting her sincerity.
As Candy, Ferris is perfectly cast, mixing innocence with a knowingness that is constantly entertaining, and she keeps the film from slipping into melodrama. Her relationship with Savage also seems authentic and develops naturally; while you imagine that the pair might eventually become a real couple, the film doesn’t linger on scenes of unrequited longing, and is all the better for it (ironically, the idea of the age-gap relationship is probably more shocking for modern audiences than the multiple children). Andrews seems to be relishing a chance to play something different from the usual gruff military men that stereotyped his career at the time, and gives a fine, subtle performance.
Director Desmond Davis might be best known in some circles for Clash of the Titans, but he seems more at home with 1960s kitchen sink dramas – this was made in the wake of Girl with Green Eyes and Smashing Time, two other Davis films about the adventures of young women in Swinging London. Here, he gives the film a light touch that stops it becoming maudlin during what might have been dark moments. The film has a curious soft focus look to it that I’ll assume is deliberate, given that it has been restored from the original film elements, and that adds to the whimsical feel. It has the atmosphere of a decidedly modern fairy tale. Some might find it to be a little too ethereal – certainly, if you want a gritty drama, this isn’t the film to watch. Not that the film is without its moments of pathos – particularly those involving Freddie, who is just as lost as Candy and would almost certainly find their marriage a trap once the relief had worn off. Villiers brings a sense of pathetic vulnerability to his character, who at first seems a chinless wonder but eventually ends up as the most tragic character in the film.
A Nice Girl Like Me manages to balance comedy, tragedy and romance perfectly – not a bad trick really. It’s certainly of its time, but that’s no bad thing. It’s a surprisingly sweet and remarkably enjoyable movie that is well worth checking out.