Nostalgia is a powerful agent in cinema, no more so than in Waris Hussein’s 1971 warm depiction of puppy love and school-daze larks, Melody. Forced by his mother to join the Boys’ Brigade to “meet people from different backgrounds,” middle-class Daniel (Mark Lester) strikes a warm-hearted but rough friendship with Ornshaw (Jack Wild – reuniting after starring in not dissimilar roles in 1968’s Oliver!) Their friendship is threatened, however, when Daniel develops a crush on the eponymous Melody (Tracy Hyde), with whom he wastes no time in proposing to after being in love with her “for a whole week.”
Narrative momentum takes a back seat to a wistful evocation of childhood friendship, conflict and romance, and in the 46 years since Melody‘s release, its sense of nostalgia has only deepened. Footage of vintage billboards, floral dresses, and post-war comprehensive school architecture now conjure a palpable sense of days gone by, and even amongst audiences too young to remember school in the early 1970s – or indeed too old – Melody evokes the particular feeling of pre-pubescent childhood that we invariably supplant ourselves into the era, superimposing our own collective memories on to those of the film.
The liminality of social class plays a large part in this sense of nostalgia, with Daniel, Melody, and Ornshaw’s various social strata thrust together in the utilitarian environment of the British comprehensive school system. Daniel’s privelege is most painfully elucidated in his insistence that he pays for a cinema trip with Ornshaw, unwittingly reminding the latter boy that he could never afford such a meagre luxury. But it’s through the children’s parents that the film’s sense of class is at its most conscious, if a little on the nose. Daniel’s rosé-quaffing Buñuel-esque mother is contrasted with Melody’s cramped but generous family, whereas we are never even granted access to Ornshaw’s tough homelife.
Only ever referred to by his surname, this also gives us an insight into how he is treated at school compared with his more well-off peers. Melody‘s light social commentary is still a far cry from the films of Ken Loach – Hussein’s film is more Gregory’s Girl than Kes, though fans of Shane Meadows will doubtless see Ornshaw and Daniel’s friendship echoed in both This is England and A Room for Romeo Brass. The BeeGees soundtrack, too, is likely to induce sentimental feelings of school larks, and although Melody‘s last act is a little silly, a Checkov’s gun payoff and the sight of rowdy kids get one over on their self-important teachers is a joy. It’s not hard to see why it’s been largely forgotten, but in its warm and sentimental evocation of late childhood, Melody really does sing.