East of Elephant Rock

East of Elephant Rock is a 1977 British independent drama film directed by Don Boyd and starring John Hurt, Jeremy Kemp and Judi Bowker. It was Boyd's second feature film following his little-noticed 1975 Intimate Reflections.[1][2] Like William Somerset Maugham's 1927 play The Letter and two subsequent film adaptations, its narrative content depended on the 1911 Ethel Proudlock murder in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which became a cause célèbre scandalising British colonial society and which had been featured in a Sunday Observer article as recently as the year before.[3][4] Boyd, drawing in part on his own experience of growing up in an increasingly dysfunctional family in Kenya during the Mau Mau rebellion, wanted to tell a story about the decline of the Empire and the surrender of responsibility.[5][6] In the event his project was for the most part ridiculed but the film did draw warm support from the film director Bryan Forbes.


The film is set in South East Asia in 1948 in an unnamed British colony. Embassy secretary Nash is having an affair with a native woman. He takes as mistress the wife of a plantation owner with fateful (and fatal) consequences.



The film is treated at length in Alexander Walker's book National Heroes: British Cinema in the 70's and 80's.[6] It was filmed on location in Sri Lanka on a budget of just £100,000.


The film received an extraordinarily hostile UK press and there were suggestions that Boyd had 'ripped-off' William Wyler's classic film noir The Letter. Boyd responded, not implausibly, that he simply hadn't seen Wyler's film but he certainly knew of the Proudlock affair.

Philip French, writing in The Times, commented:[7]

The writer-director Don Boyd embellished his tale with some political background .. with not the remotest understanding of colonial politics in the post world-war. Elephant Rock is badly lit, badly edited and badly acted. Typically in the course of a love scene on a railway platform, the station clock moves back half an hour.

while Time Out characterised it as a "depressingly redundant sample of British independent cinema".[8]

Alexander Walker's view was more nuanced. He praises the film's often glorious mise en scène on a limited budget and especially valorises Jeremy Kemp's performance but agrees the story was ineptly handled.[6]

Bryan Forbes came to the film's defence in a letter to The Times [9]

At a time when the British film industry desperately needs sympathetic encouragement, it is sad that such a worthy endeavour by a young director ... should be greeted with such a distorted - and to those who know - unfair reception

later joking that his letter had cost him good reviews for his own films ever since.[6]

See also


  1. "East of Elephant Rock". BFI database. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
  2. "East of Elephant Rock". IMBd. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
  3. Lawlor, Eric (March 2000). Murder on the Verandah: Love and Betrayal in British Malaysia. Flamingo. ISBN 0-00-655065-7.
  4. Chung Chee Min. "The Proudlock Saga". The Victoria Institution Web Page. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
  5. "Storyville:Donald and Luba - A Family Movie". BFI database. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Walker, Alexander (September 2005) [1985]. National Heroes: British Cinema in the 70's and 80's. Orion. pp. 147–150. ISBN 0-7528-5707-X.
  7. Philip French (13 January 1978). "Film review: East of Elephant Rock". The Times.
  8. "East of Elephant Rock". Time Out. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
  9. Bryan Forbes (20 January 1978). "Letter: East of Elephant Rock". The Times.
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