Ronnie O'Dowd (Margi Clarke) was born in a Liverpool market when her mother went into labour in public, which mortified the woman but there was nothing she could do: she did not even have her husband by her side for he was off making money as a bare-knuckle boxer, and his success that day provided funds to look after baby Ronnie for her first few weeks of life. But now her mother has died, and she said goodbye to her father, John (Ken Hutchison), long ago - he's not dead, he emigrated to make his fortune in New York City. She stayed in Liverpool where she now lives on an estate, and when her daughter comes home one day in a state of disarray, she marches over to the house of the girl who beat her up...
Where she proceeds to beat up the girl's mother (Tina Malone), but this was apparently OK as she was both obnoxious and a figure of fun (we hear birds tweeting when Ronnie delivers the knockout blow), yet if anything summed up the curious, rambling, rough and ready tone of Blonde Fist it was all there in its opening ten minutes. It was the brainchild of Frank Clarke, who had come to prominence as one of the brightest hopes of the Liverpool writers' scene in the nineteen-eighties with his script for sleeper hit Letter to Brezhnev, then followed it up with the less successful The Fruit Machine, though it received some publicity nevertheless, and then came this, which was a complete flop and to all intents and purposes ended that promising career.
From this distance this looked entirely unfair, sure Blonde Fist was not the slickest of entertainments, and you could tell Clarke was a first time director who had not quite gotten the hang of the medium when the screenplay was stronger than his guidance of actors, but to so utterly disappear after this was something of a mystery. He had received his start in the industry as a lot of Liverpudlian and Northern English talents had in the eighties with television soap Brookside, and you could imagine there was at least a half decent miniseries in Clarke where he could pick himself up and dust himself off, yet there was nothing. His two sisters, Margi and Angela Clarke, each of whom had roles here, continued acting, however.
Indeed, Margi was a divisive figure, summing up the love-hate relationship Britain had with Liverpool when she was so readily identified with the city, and entirely willingly as well; for everyone who enjoyed her straight talking persona with which she approached every acting and presenting job, there were all those others to whom she was anathema, with comedian David Baddiel famously putting her into the vault on comedy chat show Room 101, where the guests would consign their most detested things for a laugh. Clarke was notably never invited on. Therefore with a production such as Blonde Fist, there was nothing to win the sceptics over, and the fans would settle with watching her on television comedy drama series Making Out which was her most celebrated acting role (and probably saw her at her best).
As for this, it was a curious picaresque where we were supposed to cheer when Ronnie beat up a Job Centre worker for almost reasonably taking against her for being so insulting: even I, Daniel Blake and contemporary sitcom Bread had a more balanced view of such employees, but it does land her in prison where she also beats up the top dog and promptly escapes with her cellmate. You may be wondering at this point, fair enough but I thought this was a movie about women's boxing like Girlfight for instance, but there was a long wait before Ronnie made it into the ring, and even then she had to travel to New York after her father (with baby son in tow) to do so. While tracking him down, she meets ageing chambermaid Lovelle (the great Carroll Baker) which once more affirmed the sisterhood angle as female friendship was idealised, though not without justication, and the plot meandered to something like a triumphant finale. If this sounds like a mess, it actually held together pretty well, its mood changes keeping the plot interesting and a sheer unpredictability its main strength. Like Margi herself, you imagine there was little middle ground in Blonde Fist's appreciation, or otherwise. Music by Alan Gill (and titles designed by Jamie Reid, punk fans).
[This is released by Network as part of their British Film collection, and has a gallery as an extra.]