Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. United Kingdom, 1968. Universal Pictures, World Film Services. Screenplay by George Tabori, based on the short story Ceremonia Secreta by Marco Denevi. Cinematography by Gerry Fisher. Produced by John Heyman, Norman Priggen. Music by Richard Rodney Bennett. Production Design by Richard Macdonald. Costume Design by Sue Yelland. Film Editing by Reginald Beck.
While visiting the grave of the daughter she lost as a child, Elizabeth Taylor discovers she’s being followed by a morose young woman (Mia Farrow) who takes advantage of her grief and drags her to her empty palace of a London home. Taylor’s resemblance to Farrow’s deceased mother easily allows her to take over the late woman’s bedroom and wardrobe, beginning a strange role-playing game that quickly becomes obsessive co-dependence. Two nosey aunts show up (played with hysterical sharpness by Pamela Brown and Peggy Ashcroft) and reveal biographical details, while the appearance of Robert Mitchum as Farrow’s incestuous pedophile of a stepfather gives us plenty of insight into the young woman’s damaged psyche. Joseph Losey tends to love gazing into the dark side of human relationships by examining what makes people cling to each other with such desperation, but here he pulls it off with a level of humour that verges on camp. That’s not a criticism, since the sight of the beautiful Taylor and the ghoulishly waifish Farrow sparring with each other couldn’t possibly be more of an enjoyable indulgence, making the film’s sometimes dull plot well worth the patience it demands. Taylor is particularly fearless in this lurid curiousity, becoming more attractive the more she tries to show the grotesque side of her star appeal.