An absurdist minor masterpiece, Richard Lester’s The Bed Sitting Room in many ways follows in the same vein as Lester’s How I Won the War from two years earlier. How I Won the War has an undeniably higher profile, mostly due to the presence of John Lennon in a non-Beatles role, but The Bed Sitting Room has a far sharper command of the non sequitur. How I Won the War’s inanity turns tedious quickly, but The Bed Sitting Room is a bright, coherent piece of filmmaking, even if its characters are anything but.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that Lester is working with much stronger source material here, adapting the Spike Milligan and John Antrobus play about England in a post-nuclear age. Featuring a number of collaborators from legendary radio program The Goon Show, The Bed Sitting Room combines anarchic satire and gorgeously surreal photography by David Watkin to brilliant effect.
Set in the aftermath of World War III — England’s shortest war ever, ended by a nuclear “misunderstanding” — the film features a cast of ragged survivors wandering the barren wasteland. The radiation haze is responsible for some curious effects: A woman (Rita Tushingham) is going on her 18th month of pregnancy; a man (Ralph Richardson) is plagued by a recurring fear that he’s turning into the titular bedroom; another man finds himself transformed into a parrot.
The handful of survivors have managed to cobble together some semblance of a working society — the Underground is still running, one man’s bicycle pedaling is keeping the lights on, the BBC (Frank Thornton) makes house calls, a wandering nurse (Marty Feldman) checks on people’s health, and a pair of civil defense officers (Peter Cook, Dudley Moore) patrol from the air in a Volkswagen/hot-air balloon contraption.
Naturally, the film is relentlessly episodic, but visual and thematic through-lines help keep it grounded enough. Here, even in the wake of a world-annihilating disaster, British reticence, modesty and passive-aggressiveness proves solid — even after you’ve turned into a bedroom.
The film makes its way to Region 1 DVD thanks to a burn-on-demand release from the MGM Limited Edition Collection. This is a reasonably clean transfer, with fairly bold colors and decent image sharpness, but the film gets the shaft here compared to the UK, where the BFI released the film on region-locked Blu-ray. The Bed Sitting Room may not be worth upgrading to a region-free Blu-ray player for, but here in the U.S., it deserves better than a measly DVD-R release with only the theatrical trailer as an extra.