Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. United Kingdom, 1971. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer British Studios, EMI Films, World Film Services. Screenplay by Harold Pinter, based on the novel by L.P. Hartley. Cinematography by Gerry Fisher. Produced by John Heyman, Norman Priggen. Music by Michel Legrand. Production Design by Carmen Dillon. Costume Design by John Furniss. Film Editing by Reginald Beck. Academy Awards 1971. Cannes Film Festival 1971. Golden Globe Awards 1971.
The aristocratic gentry play host at their sprawling estate to Leo, a young boy who goes to school with the family’s youngest son and immediately becomes the pet of his friend’s older sister (Julie Christie). Leo is enamored of the gorgeous young woman, and thinks nothing of it when she begins asking him to bring letters to a ruggedly handsome tenant farmer (Alan Bates) who asks the same of the young man when returning to his host’s manor. Oblivious to the nature of their relationship but free to help them while his friend lies in bed with measles, Leo eventually stumbles upon the truth and it provokes a complex understanding of the world; since it’s written by Harold Pinter, that understanding gets even darker when Leo realizes that his hosts easily leave their gentility behind when they’re not easily getting what they want out of him. It sounds trite in description, but the solid direction by the great Joseph Losey and the intelligent script do a fantastic job of keeping drama at the forefront while the class tension provides the atmosphere. It is possible that it is one of the first grand period films to be made without any soapy romance on its mind, a style that has been done many times since, while its themes have been done on film in grander and more complex ways (Howards End also tells us that England’s increasingly democratic ways are because the aristocrats were irresponsible and not because the lower classes took over), leaving this one looking slightly dusty. It still manages to engage the viewer, though, and Margaret Leighton has a terrific supporting role as Christie’s seemingly oblivious but eventually galvanized mother.