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Brighton Rock (novel)

First American edition cover, artist George Salter

Brighton Rock is a novel by Graham Greene, published in 1938 and later adapted for film in 1947 and 2010. The novel is a murder thriller set in 1930s Brighton. The title refers to a confectionery traditionally sold at seaside resorts and is used as a metaphor for human character. There are links between this novel and Greene's earlier novel A Gun for Sale (1936), because Raven's murder of the gang boss Kite, mentioned in A Gun For Sale, allows Pinkie to take over his gang and thus sets the events of Brighton Rock in motion.


  • Plot summary 1
  • Main characters 2
  • Adaptations 3
    • 1944 play 3.1
    • 1947 film 3.2
    • 1997 radio adaptation 3.3
    • 2004 musical 3.4
    • 2010 film 3.5
  • References in other works 4
    • Literature 4.1
    • Music 4.2
  • References 5

Plot summary

Charles "Fred" Hale comes to Brighton on assignment to anonymously distribute cards for a newspaper competition (this is a variant of "Lobby Lud" in which the name of the person to be spotted is "Kolley Kibber"). The antihero of the novel, Pinkie Brown, is a teenage sociopath and up-and-coming gangster. Hale had betrayed the former leader of the gang Pinkie now controls, by writing an article in the Daily Messenger about a slot machine racket for which the gang was responsible. Ida Arnold, a plump, kind-hearted, and decent woman, is drawn into the action by a chance meeting with the terrified Hale after he has been threatened by Pinkie's gang. After being chased through the streets and lanes of Brighton, Hale accidentally meets Ida again on the Palace Pier, but eventually Pinkie murders Hale. Pinkie's subsequent attempts to cover his tracks and remove evidence of Hale's Brighton visit lead to a chain of fresh crimes and to Pinkie's ill-fated marriage to a waitress called Rose, who unknowingly has the power to destroy his alibi. Ida decides to pursue Pinkie relentlessly, because she believes it is the right thing to do, as well as to protect Rose from the deeply disturbed boy she has married.

Although ostensibly an underworld thriller, the book also deals with Roman Catholic doctrine concerning the nature of sin and the basis of morality. Pinkie and Rose are Catholics, as was Greene, and their beliefs are contrasted with Ida's strong but non-religious moral sensibility. Greene alludes significantly to the French Catholic writer Péguy in Brighton Rock, in relation to ideas about damnation and mercy,[1] and in The Lawless Roads he refers to "Péguy challenging God in the cause of the damned".[2]

Main characters

  • Pinkie: The anti-hero of the story, merciless to his victims, simultaneously obsessed with and repelled by sex and human connection. He is the leader of 'the mob' despite being the youngest at 17.
  • Dallow: Pinkie's second in command – the only member of the mob Pinkie feels he can confide in.
  • Cubitt: Another mob member who lives at Frank's, with Pinkie and Dallow. He leaves the gang when Pinkie reveals that he (Pinkie) killed Spicer.
  • Spicer: An ageing mob member resident at Frank's. From the beginning he expresses discomfort with the gang's increasing violence. Pinkie's mistrust of him leads to his murder by Pinkie, for fear Spicer might inform Ida Arnold or the police.
  • Rose: A poor, modest, and naïve girl who becomes Pinkie's girlfriend and wife. She, like Pinkie, is Roman Catholic, and she falls in love with him despite his advances to her being purely motivated to keep her from giving incriminating evidence against him. Pinkie is usually repelled by her but later has the occasional feeling of tenderness towards her.
  • Ida Arnold: Ida takes up the role of detective, hunting down Pinkie to bring justice to Hale, and later, when she finds out that Pinkie is marrying Rose, to save the girl. Ida represents the force of justice in this novel. She acquires information from Cubitt once he is cast out of the gang which significantly aids her investigation.


1944 play

Richard Attenborough and Dulcie Gray starred in the original theatrical production at the Garrick Theatre, in 1944. Gray's performance as the luckless waitress Rose led to her being offered a contract with Gainsborough Pictures. However, she was passed over for the role of Rose in the 1947 film version of Brighton Rock, in favour of Carol Marsh.[3]

1947 film

Greene and Terence Rattigan wrote the screenplay for a 1947 film adaptation, produced and directed by John and Roy Boulting, with assistant director Gerald Mitchell. The film starred Richard Attenborough as Pinkie, Carol Marsh as Rose, William Hartnell as Dallow, and Hermione Baddeley as Ida. The climax of the film takes place at the Palace Pier, which differs from the novel, the end of which takes place in the nearby town of Peacehaven. In the United States, the film was released under the title Young Scarface.

1997 radio adaptation

Ken Whitmore adapted Graham Greene's story for a 1997 BBC Radio dramatisation directed by John Yorke and starring Steven Mackintosh (as Pinkie), Maurice Denham and Kenneth Cranham.

2004 musical

Film composer John Barry and lyricist Don Black wrote a musical version based on Greene's novel. The show opened in London's Almeida Theatre on 20 September and ran until 13 October 2004. However, due to poor reviews, it failed to get a West End transfer.

2010 film

Rowan Joffé directed a film adaptation which was released in 2010, starring Sam Riley[4][5] as 'Pinkie', Andrea Riseborough as Rose and Helen Mirren as Ida Arnold.[6] Location filming for the Pier scenes took place in Eastbourne in October 2009, with Eastbourne Pier standing for Brighton's Palace Pier. Filming of the scenes involving the Regency Cafe took place in Page Street, Westminster, on 6 December 2009. In a chronological departure from Greene's novel, set in the 1930s, the film is set in the Mods and Rockers subculture of a divided Brighton in the 1960s. The film was featured at the 54th London Film Festival in October 2010, in the coveted surprise film slot.

References in other works


  • Brighton Rock plays an important role in the storyline of protagonist Tom Henderson in Frank Portman's novel King Dork (2006).


  • The British pomp rock group Queen enjoyed moderate success with their song "Brighton Rock", which appeared on their Sheer Heart Attack (1974) album.


  1. ^ Grahame C. Jones, "Graham Greene and the Legend of Péguy". Comparative Literature', XX1 (2),Sprong 1969, pp.138–40.
  2. ^ Quoted by Grahame C. Jones, in "Graham Greene and the Legend of Péguy", fn.2, p. 139.
  3. ^ "Dulcie Gray". 16 November 2011. Retrieved 17 November 2011. 
  4. ^ Jaafar, Ali, "Actors sign on for Joffe's 'Brighton': Sam Riley, Carey Mulligan to star in adaptation", Variety, Sat., May. 16, 2009
  5. ^ IMDb Page
  6. ^ de Semlyen, Phil, "Andrea Riseborough Joins Brighton Rock With Sam Riley in Greene adaptation", The Hollywood Reporter, 13 August 2009
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