Movie Review: The Year of the Sex Olympics (UK, TV, 1968)

Get your mind out of the gutter. This is NOT some sort of soft-core porn “nudie cutie”. It’s a “made for TV” play that aired on the BBC’s “Theater 625” drama anthology series, so other than a hint of some passing nudity in one scene, there’s nothing that could be considered lascivious.

It just happens to be set in the Year of the Sex Olympics. We’re not given any clue as to what a “sex Olympics” might entail. But what we do know is that the teleplay takes place in a not too distant overpopulated future, where everyone is effectively divided into the “hi-drives” (the leaders, movers and shakers, the “One Percent”) and the “lo-drives” (the plebians, the workers, the unwashed masses). The lo-drives are fed a nearly constant stream of lowest-common-denominator entertainment to keep them in line.

There are some who dissent, and some of the hi-drives are worried that their usual methods of keeping the lo-drives sated and content aren’t working anymore. Coordinator Ugo Priest (Leonard Rossiter) has a plan to try the broadest of physical comedy – a pie fight – in the hopes of getting people to laugh. It fails completely. When the accidental death of a protester on the set during a live “introduction” of some of the year’s sex Olympians causes the viewing audience to break out laughing, director Nat Mender (Tony Vogel) gets an idea.

Coordinator Ugo is old enough to remember the days before society got to its current state. He’s been talking about them a lot with Nat. So Nat figures that people want unscripted, “random” entertainment. He proposes getting some people and putting them in a situation where they’d have to live the way people did in the “old days”, and TV cameras would watch their every moment. Nat even volunteers to go live with his wife and daughter on a remote, uninhabited island for the purpose of the show.

Things seem to go well; then Lasar Opie (Brian Cox), the director of this new show, gets some ideas as to how to “spice it up”. He is of the opinion that all those emotions like “fear” and “anger” that have been removed from society are actually OK – provided the viewing audience sees them happening in other people…..

Yes, screenwriter Nigel Kneale invented reality television.

Kneale also did a great job at presenting the future society. The dangerous emotions have been so completely removed from society that the words used to name them have fallen into disuse. There’s little indication of family structure in this world; Nat’s “daughter” is being raised separately in some sort of school or creche. The unhappy news that his daughter is almost certainly destined for the “low-drives” is a likely reason for his agreement to reject society and go live on that island.

There’s so much going on here to provoke thought and speculation. Not just the obvious commentary on television, but how language can be used to change and control a society. How some might see these controls as necessary to keep order in an overpopulated world. How efforts to remove or restrict “bad” emotions might also remove “good” ones like empathy and compassion.

Special note must be given to the BBC’s costume department. Everyone – well, the “hi-drives” at any rate – is wearing outfits that look like they were designed by hippies in the “Summer of Love” who were given all the money they needed and told to “go nuts”. It’s almost a blessing that the show, which was originally broadcast in full color, now seems to exist only in black and white copies.

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