Gormleigh-on-Sea is a drab little old-fashioned English seaside town – where landladies lock the door at 10 pm and rain buckets down throughout the summer – desperately in need of increased tourist revenues and an improved image.
Deckchair attendant Jim Stephens (James Booth) comes up with the idea of holding a film festival and inviting continental sex-bomb starlet Françoise Fayol (Austrian actress Marisa Mell) to attend as their guest of honour and do for Gormleigh what Brigitte Bardot did for St Tropez.
“Better than Bingo, eh?” he leers.
When Françoise arrives the lecherous Mayor (Bryan Pringle) makes more than a fuss of her, convincing her to open the new nudist beach. When she leaves the town in disgust, though, Jim’s American girlfriend, teen journalist Judy (Alita Naughton), impetuously takes her place.
Standout scenes include the pier – from which both the Mayor and Françoise are watching a parade – sliding out to sea; a melee at the film festival itself when puritanical locals object to smut being projected (Fayol’s sex-epic, Pavements of Boulogne) with people even ripping through the cinema screen; and the concluding nudist beach inauguration with everyone being struck by lightning.
Filmed in black & white and visually original, every shot is formally composed with infinite care and the town council is virtually a corps de ballet. They are always in top hats and tailcoats, make their first entry on roller skates, and do everything in unison – whether changing into striped bathing costumes or ogling nudists through binoculars.
French Dressing – the feature directing debut of Ken Russell – was filmed on location at Herne Bay in Kent.