Joseph Losey (director)
16 September 2019 (released)
19 September 2019
This sumptuous adaptation of L. P. Hartley’s novel (adapted by celebrated screenwriter Harold Pinter) proved to be a huge hit both with critics and audiences alike upon its original 1971 theatrical release. This slow-burning psychological drama, set during a stifling hot Norfolk summer at the turn of the century, takes a while to unfold… which makes the story’s unexpected conclusion all the more shocking.
Having much appreciated the earlier Losey/Pinter effort THE SERVANT, this reviewer was looking forward to the multi award-winning film that is THE GO-BETWEEN, once again derived from a novel. Quite what Losey and Pinter were looking for can seem a little ambiguous as it actually takes some time before any kind of 'action' (if such a word is applicable in this case) takes place. The plot itself is a relatively simple one, drawn out over 116 minutes: a clandestine affair between posh Aristocrat Marian Maudsley (played by Julie Christie with her usual charm) and Ted Burgess’ pretty low-class tenant farmer (played with an earthy world weariness by Alan Bates) whose farm happens to be on her family's property (by the look of it only about a 10 minute walk from the huge family mansion).
The 'Go- Between' in question is a 12-year old Leo Colston (Dominic Guard) who is staying at the stately Maudsley home after his school friend Marcus Maudsley (Richard Gibson) invited him there for the school holidays. The class differences are obvious straight away when Marcus urges his pal to “leave the dirty clothes on the floor, the servants will pick them up. That’s what servants are for.”
However, when Marcus is struck down with the measles, Leo is forced to look for other ways of entertaining himself and takes a shine to Marcus’ older and very attractive sister Marian. During a stroll in the nearby fields he also meets Ted and a friendship of sorts develops (this could have been a little more meaningful). Before you know it, the young lad finds himself delivering love/trysting letters between Marian and Ted, initially believing them to be business letters. Whilst his ‘puppy love’ crush on Marian continues, Leo he is not without respect for farmer.
We know that this impossible romance cannot really last as an adult Leo (played by a generally wasted Michael Redgrave) is telling the story to the viewer in flashback. Therefore the action can only encompass the duration of Leo's holiday.
Not only that, but Marian’s parents Mr. and Mrs. Maudley (Michael Gough and Margaret Leighton respectively) expect their daughter to marry the estate owner Hugh, Viscount Trimingham (Edward Fox) – a nice enough chap albeit with a Boer War face wound. Unfortunately Marian does not love him but she knows that etiquette and social status demand that she must marry the Viscount. Eventually and inevitably, Marian and Ted’s illicit affair will be found out due to a number of mishaps and the initially somewhat naive Leo's curiosity… and so tragedy must ensue. And it does…
The denouement with regards to the adult Leo's answer to the aged Marian, now the Dowager Lady Trimingham, is almost laughable. If a good twenty minutes were sheared off the film it would carry a little more clout - but perhaps this isn't the point. Maybe Losey and Pinter wanted an extra twenty minutes of some exceptional shots of the glorious Norfolk landscape (nicely photographed by Gerry Fisher) and a lot of incredibly vacuous waffle delivered with toffee-nosed aplomb by the likes of old thesps like Margaret Leighton (eventually making her stage-like command felt near the crux) and horror film stalwart Michael Gough (having a day off from the charnel house). Not to forget Lord Plum himself (Edward Fox) as Marian's intended, being of her class. Towards the end little Leo asks him what he thinks of Ted Burgess and to give Hugh his due he is not overly disparaging with his reply... well, everyone knows Ted is a bit of a womanizer (and Alan Bates had been described by a fellow actress as 'gorgeous'). Incidentally, Michael Legrand’s score is indicative of considerably more dramatic elements than the action delivers.
Novelist L. P. Hartley, an old Harrovian adopted by the Oxford Aristo's and a far from uninteresting character, has based Leo very much on himself (having spent a similar vacation as a child). This is a somewhat drawn-out subtle critique of the English class system and in particular the rigorous rulebook of the upper class. Yes, 'the past is a foreign country' but… have things really changed?
THE GO-BETWEEN is presented in a brand-new 4K restoration with a host of Extras.