Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
United Kingdom, 1985. Film Four International, Greenpoint Films, Zenith Entertainment. Screenplay by David Hare. Cinematography by Stuart Harris. Produced by Simon Relph. Music by Nick Bicât. Production Design by Hayden Griffin. Costume Design by Jane Greenwood, Lindy Hemming. Film Editing by Chris Wimble. Boston Film Critics 1985.
Vanessa Redgrave is a schoolteacher in the town after which this film is titled, who one night hosts a small dinner party for her closest friends and the stranger that two of them (Judi Dench, Ian Holm) brought along. The mysterious young man (played by Tim McInnerny) shows up at her house again a couple of days later and tells Redgrave that he actually didn’t know Dench and Holm, they had met him at the door and assumed he was friends with the hostess. McInnerny then proceeds to shoot himself in the face while sitting at Redgrave’s table, and the shock sends her into an introspective investigation of the events leading up to this devastating moment and the various characters involved. Suzanna Hamilton as the dead young man’s former school mate shows up for the funeral and invites herself to stay in Redgrave’s house, shedding some light on the man who has caused this disturbance, Stuart Wilson as a police officer comes to find out more what happened at that dinner party while dealing with his own personal problems with his married lover, and Redgrave herself frequently flashes back to her youth when she, played by her real-life daughter Joely Richardson, had a romance with a young man that was thwarted by the war. David Hare’s high-concept drama features expert dialogue and sturdy performances by a gleaming cast, Dench particularly making her few moments count as our heroine’s best friend. The intent is to apply these dramatic elements to an allegory about England Under Thatcher, which is clear from the way that each scene is never about any kind of emotional satisfaction but always feels theoretical, which will make the film a cold experience for viewers to whom it is not speaking directly. Its obvious aims are never shameless, though, Hare is too good a writer to be a pedant, but he does spread his narrative a bit too thin over a range of characters that we never truly get in deep with before the finale’s big reveal.