Film Diary: The Go Between (Joseph Losey, 1971)

Sunday, 4 May 2008

The Go Between

These days we tend to look upon the arranged marriage as a feature of another culture, but we forget that not all that long ago marriage was a tool for forging alliances for the sake of social betterment, often under duress, and how often were lives damaged by it.

In this story, the real victim is the 12-year-old Leo, a naive schoolboy living with his doting mother in straitened circumstances to allow him to attend a prep school, who is invited to spend the last summer of the nineteenth centure with his much more worldly schoolfriend and his upwardly-mobile middle-class family, pretending to play the gentry in a Norfolk country house. While there, his naive innocence is taken advantage of in furtherance of the liaison between beautiful Julie Christie and her bit of tenant farmer rough Alan Bates (Phwarrr!). But Our Julie is destined to marry charming but badly-scarred aristocrat Edward Fox for the sake greater social advancement of the Mawdesley family. And when young Leo is caught up in the crossfire, he sustains emotional traumas that will blight the rest of his life.

The film stays faithful to LP Hartley’s wonderful novel, but can’t entirely capture the spirit of it, which stresses the point of view of elderly Leo looking back on that distant summer through years and years of desiccated avoidance of emotion. All the same, it catches the flavour well. One should really read the book but there’s enough here to get the idea across, by the use of some very subtle time shifting. It certainly looks terrific – you can feel the heat of the summer, the lazy buzz of the bees in the overgrown garden, feel the intesity of the Norfolk sun on the lake, smell the rubbish around the outhouses. And a near-perfect score by Michel LeGrand ties it up nicely.

Its 2007 descendant is Atonement of course. What is it with Ian McEwan. surely much influenced by old Julie Christie films? The Comfort of Strangers was surely a rehash of Don’t Look Now!

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One Response to “Film Diary: The Go Between (Joseph Losey, 1971)”

  1. molekilby Says:

    An excellent review. This is my favourite book and I can whole heartedly recommend both film and book.


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