Wow, it’s been a long time since I visited a Catherine Cookson!
Ladies and gents, welcome to The Round Tower. It’s a sweet little romance about an upper-class girl, a middle-class boy, and the bairnsketball that comes between them!
The Round Tower probably Cookson’s most in-depth look at class differences in mid-century England and the turmoil caused by the idea of someone wanting to change their socio-economic strata through hard work. However, since most of those parts were filmed with the light from a single desk lamp, you can’t really tell.
It also has some of the skeeviest lines of any Cookson. Just…wow. This poor, poor young lady.
Era: 1950s. And 1960s. And maybe 1970s. Also maybe 2150. They’re in some time warp where they never age and yet five hundred years of the viewer’s lifetime pass before their eyes as they watch!
Heroine: Vanessa Ratcliffe.
Siblings that require looking-after: Nope!
Illegitimate (Self or sibling): She gets a bairnsketball thanks to her father’s skeevy friend. Does that count?
Asshole Father?: Oooh yeah.
Romantic interest(s): Angus Cotton, an employee of her dad’s who marries her to save her reputation.
Bairnsketballs: Check. Thanks, creepy neighbor!
Fistfights: I started counting, but gave up. I think this entire movie is one huge slapfight.
Assaults: On our characters, no. On our patience, yes.
“That was back when she was pure. Untouched.”
Oh yeah, he says that. YOUR HERO, LADIES AND GENTS.
So, here’s the thing about The Round Tower. It is about eight hundred hours long, and I don’t even know why, because hardly anything happens. The first hour can be boiled down pretty neatly. Vanessa, who is duller than dishwater and twice as bland, gets seduced by her father’s friend, gets pregnant, and makes blank faces as her parents yell at her.
Good news is that there’s a determined young man at her father’s factory who’s about to sweep her off her illegitimate feet!
This is Angus. He’s high on life.
Of course, part of it is that a major theme in this gem is that poverty sucks and social mobility equals bigger and bigger houses, so they start him off in the smallest, brownest living quarters money can buy.
Then they give him this mom.
This is not a bad moment. This is just what her face looks like.
So, after Vanessa moves out to the set of La Boheme, Angus pays a call for a little moral support!
Even though he complains to his friend that he doesn’t have quite the crush on her that he used to, because she’s no longer ‘untouched,’ he agrees to marry her so that her kid isn’t born in infamy. It’s very sweet of him. He even gets a 50s Regulation Pair of Twin Beds installed in his bedroom so it can stay nice and chaste the way the 50s like it.
On the wedding night, after he chases out his drunk mom’s huge drunk lower-class party full of people who don’t want to better themselves, Vanessa gives him a chaste 50s kiss that turns into a superhot 50s pulp kiss. Finally he pushes her away, overwhelmed! Woo! You go, you crazy kids and your sexual tension!
Then he opens his mouth, and it is the Worst Thing Ever.
Cookson Records Presents: Angus Cotton’s Greatest Hits!
Includes these classic tracks:
“You shouldn’t have done that”
“I was all right until you did that”
“That’s asking for trouble, that is”
And the hit single: “When I want you, I’ll take you in me own time.”
Oh yeah, he says that. OUR HERO, YOU GUYS.
Weirdly, even after hearing this rich, date-rapey promise, our heroine doesn’t leave him. That means we get hours and hours of nothing, as their awkward, friendless, sexless marriage plods on and on. Vanessa even tries to kill herself to get away from his all-brown house and his shouty mom, but it doesn’t work, because then she would have actually made a choice for herself, and we can’t have that!
So instead she has the baby. Then at some point it dies, so that nothing gets in the way of Vanessa and Angus’s courtship.
Here’s how the courtship happens, in its entirety: they go out for dinner, and then they come back and undress in the world’s most awkward and least sex-preparatory way.
Then, after she’s in bed, he comes over and says, “We’re going to have some good times together, eh? Do I get in there?”
We can only pray he means the bed.
Aaaaaand that’s the courtship! Hope you feel as grossed-out as I do. (Watching this Cookson is like seeing a spider; you feel repulsed and flap your hands a lot.)
And of course, once Angus has sex with someone from the upper class, things start going well for him, and even though that is not quite the cause and effect the movie was going for, that’s what it looks like to the viewer, so thanks for THAT.
This time of prosperity is demonstrated by a series of bigger and bigger houses. First, they live on the set of Mad Men:
(Angus is thrilled.)
Then, he tries to buy her Buckingham Palace:
Finally, after flying through time and landing in 1968 without any explanation, he buys her the entire county of Surrey so they can just build a house that’s miles long and has enormous ceilings!
…mostly to accommodate her hair.
The good news is that Angus has finally found an era that allows him to demonstrate his doucheness through fashion in a way his nifty 50s suits never did:
Every woman recognizes this guy. He taught at her college, and made jokes that weren’t sexual while he pre-empted himself laughing and tried to touch her elbow during the punchline.
And, just in case you wanted to feel sympathy for the guy married to the world’s dullest girl, or the girl trapped with the world’s dullest marital rapist, they give you one last smug sendoff:
Now you never have to like ANYONE, no matter WHAT their social class is! Wooo!