That'll Be the Day (film)

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That'll Be the Day
That'll be the day.jpg
DVD cover by Arnaldo Putzu
Directed byClaude Whatham
Written byRay Connolly
Produced bySanford Lieberson
David Puttnam
StarringDavid Essex
Rosemary Leach
Ringo Starr
James Booth
Billy Fury
Keith Moon
CinematographyPeter Suschitzky
Distributed byAnglo-EMI Film Distributors
Release dates
  • 12 April 1973 (1973-04-12) (United Kingdom)
  • 29 October 1973 (1973-10-29) (United States)
Running time
91 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

That'll Be the Day is a 1973 British coming of age drama film directed by Claude Whatham, written by Ray Connolly, and starring David Essex, Rosemary Leach and Ringo Starr. Set primarily in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the film tells the story of Jim MacLaine (Essex), a British teenager raised by his single mother (Leach). Jim rejects society's conventions and pursues a hedonistic and sexually loose lifestyle, harming others and damaging his close relationships in the process. The cast also featured several prominent musicians who had lived through the era portrayed, including Starr, Billy Fury, Keith Moon, and John Hawken. The success of That'll Be the Day led to a sequel, Stardust, that followed the life of Jim MacLaine through the 1960s and 1970s.


In an urban area in early 1940s England, a young child, Jim MacLaine, lives with his mother Mary (Rosemary Leach) and his grandfather. Jim's seaman father returns, spends time with him, and works in the family's grocery shop. However, Jim's father finds himself unable to settle down, and soon leaves again for good, abandoning his wife and son. Mary continues to run the shop and raise Jim on her own.

In the late 1950s. Jim (David Essex) is now a very bright but bored schoolboy in his final year at the local secondary school. Jim's mother plans that he will do well on his final exams, qualify for university, and have many opportunities open to him. Jim is far less enthusiastic about continuing his education, and prefers drawing, writing poetry, listening to rock n' roll music, and pursuing girls - unsuccessfully. Instead of going with his friend Terry to take his exams, Jim runs away to the coast to work as a deckchair attendant, disappointing and upsetting his mother. He moves on to a barman job at a holiday camp, where he befriends the experienced barman Mike (Ringo Starr). Mike helps Jim hook up with willing women for his first sexual experiences. Jim is also drawn to the music and lifestyle of the resident singer, Stormy Tempest (Billy Fury) and his drummer, J.D. Clover (Keith Moon).

Mike and Jim next get jobs at a funfair, supplementing their meager pay by short-changing the customers. Jim quickly becomes a heartless fairground Romeo, having one-nighters with a wide variety of women, including a young schoolgirl whom he rapes. He lies to Mike about the encounter, but Mike sees through it and berates him. Shortly afterwards, Mike short-changes a gang member and is attacked by the whole gang. Jim sees Mike being beaten, but instead of helping Mike, Jim hurries away pretending he saw nothing and has a tryst with another fair worker. The severely injured Mike is hospitalized and cannot return, and Jim gets a promotion that was supposed to go to Mike.

Jim contacts Terry, who is now at university, but discovers that Terry and the girls at his university look down on his lifestyle and musical tastes. Jim decides to return home after two years, finding his resentful mother struggling to run the grocery shop and care for her father, now an invalid. Jim helps his mother with the shop and starts dating Terry's sister Jeanette over the objections of her mother and Terry. Unlike all his previous dates, Jim does not have sex with Jeanette, even though she is willing to do so out of love for him. Jim and Jeanette marry, with Terry and her mother wrongly assuming she must be pregnant. Jim, angry at Terry and ambivalent about losing his freedom, has sex with Terry's girlfriend Jean on the night before his wedding.

Jim and Jeanette live with his mother and grandfather. Jim pretends to be going to night school, but is secretly spending his nights at rock n' roll shows. Jeanette gets pregnant and they have a son. Jean and Terry plan to get engaged, and Jean makes suggestive remarks to Jim in front of Jeanette.

After talking with friends in a band, Jim leaves home, repeating the pattern of his father. Jeanette cries, but his mum is unsurprised. The film ends as Jim buys a secondhand guitar.




David Puttnam and his producing partner Sandy Lieberson met with Nat Cohen of EMI Films who agreed to provide half the budget. The other half - £100,000 - was obtained from Ronco Records on the condition that the film include 40 songs from Ronco's catalog of old hits, which Ronco could then package and sell on TV as a soundtrack album.[2][3]


According to screenwriter Ray Connolly, the film was Puttnam's idea, who had worked in advertising and recently moved into film production. Connolly says Puttnam was inspired by Harry Nilsson's song "1941", in which an early-1940s father deserts his young son, who subsequently joins a circus; Puttnam suggested changing the circus to a fair. Puttnam hired Connolly, who a journalist he was friends with, to write the script.[2]

Connolly wrote the script in the evenings and said they would "ransack our own lives as we created the fictional character of Jim Maclaine, and steal moments from our favourite films, a bit from East of Eden here, something from Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows there."[2]

Puttnam offered the directing job to Michael Apted who turned it down, Director Claude Watham was given the job off the back of his TV movie Cider with Rosie - Puttnam was impressed with his period detail.[4] Puttnam also liked the fact that Watham was not that interested in rock'n'roll and would provide a counterbalance to Puttnam and Connolly.[5]


Connolly said that David Essex, who was then starring in a West End production of Godspell, was cast in an effort to make the selfish Jim MacLaine character more likeable to an audience, because Essex "was so good looking and likeable an audience would forgive him anything."

Ringo Starr was cast as Mike after Connolly, who had never been to a holiday camp, consulted him and former Beatles road manager Neil Aspinall about their Butlins memories. Aspinall also helped to put together the camp band that appeared in the film.[2] Several roles were played by prominent musicians who had lived through the same era portrayed in the film, including Starr, Billy Fury, Keith Moon of the Who, and John Hawken of the Nashville Teens.


Filming was done on the Isle of Wight because the area still had a late-1950s look in the early 1970s.[2] When filming started on the 23rd October 1972, Essex had a seven-week break from his Godspell role to film the picture.[6]

Puttnam clashed with Watham during filming, saying the director did not understand all the subtext of the script. When Watham fell ill Alan Parker directed for two days.[7]


Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1973/74) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[8] 9
UK Albums Chart[9] 1
Preceded by
Pure Gold by Various artists
UK Albums Chart number-one album
30 June 1973 – 18 August 1973
Succeeded by


The film was a hit at the box office (by 1985 it had earned an estimated profit of £406,000).[1] Nat Cohen, who invested in the film, said it made more than 50% its cost.[10] It was one of the most popular movies of 1973 at the British box office.[11]

Connolly said "At the time, I was astonished by its success. A sixth form drop out, who throws his school books into a river when he should be sitting his A-level history, writes poetry in the rain while hiring out deck chairs, and lets down just about absolutely everyone was hardly an obvious subject. But, on reflection, I can now see that there was nothing else like it at the time. And the music soundtrack was fantastic."[2]


The Los Angeles Times called it "a Very special, strange and fascinating movie."[12]

According to Anne Billson in the Time Out Film Guide, the film was a "hugely overrated dip into the rock 'n' roll nostalgia bucket, ... " also commenting "Youth culture my eye: they're all at least a decade too old. But good tunes, and worth catching for Billy Fury's gold lamé act."[13]

Awards and nominations[edit]

At the 27th British Academy Film Awards in 1973, the film received two nominations. Rosemary Leach for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and David Essex for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles.


Essex returned as Jim Maclaine the following year, in the 1974 sequel, Stardust, which continues the story into the early 1970s.

An independent radio drama recording project, That'll be the Stardust!, was released in 2008.[14] The story follows the musical journey of Jim Maclaine's son, Jimmy Maclaine Jr.


  1. ^ a b Alexander Walker, National Heroes: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties, Harrap, 1985 p 79
  2. ^ a b c d e f Connolly, Ray (2017-09-30). "On the Origins of the Films That'll Be the Day and Stardust". Archived from the original on 2020-07-27. Retrieved 2020-07-27.
  3. ^ Yule p 85-86
  4. ^ In the Picture Sight and Sound; London Vol. 42, Iss. 2, (Spring 1973): 84.
  5. ^ Yule p 86
  6. ^ 'Day' Breaks With Starr Variety; Los Angeles Vol. 268, Iss. 11, (Oct 25, 1972): 30.
  7. ^ Yule p 87
  8. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 320. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  9. ^ "Number 1 Albums – 1970s". The Official Charts Company. Archived from the original on 9 February 2008. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  10. ^ Ooh, you are awful, film men tell Tories. David Blundy. The Sunday Times (London, England), Sunday, 16 December 1973; pg. 5; Issue 7853. (939 words)
  11. ^ Harper, Sue (2011). British Film Culture in the 1970s: The Boundaries of Pleasure: The Boundaries of Pleasure. Edinburgh University Press. p. 270. ISBN 9780748654260.
  12. ^ Looking Under a Rock Star: UNDER A ROCK Champlin, Charles. Los Angeles Times 30 Oct 1974: f1.
  13. ^ The TimeOut Film Guide, 3rd edition, 1993, p. 706
  14. ^ "Tony G. Marshall's "That'll be the Stardust!"". Retrieved 2019-08-03.


  • Yule, Andrew (1989). Enigma : David Puttnam, the story so far ... Sphere Books.

External links[edit]