Sunday, July 7, 2013

Period Drama Challenge Review #7: The Go-Between (1971)

The Go-Between (1971) is based on the 1953 novel by L. P. Hartley, which takes place in the early 1900's, or Edwardian times (the same time period of Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery).  The story is guided by the perspective of Leo (played by Dominic Guard), a young boy invited to spend his summer at a country house in Norfolk, where a family of a higher social status reside.  As the story goes on, Leo is manipulated by a young woman of the family, named Marian, and her lover, a farmer.  They need Leo to deliver messages between them and to keep their secret, as Marian is engaged to someone of her own social rank and would not be allowed to carry on a romance with someone so far below her economic class.

Leo takes one of Marian's letters to Ted Burgess.
Julie Christie stars as Marian, the daughter of Leo's host, and Alan Bates stars as Ted Burgess, Marian's secret lover.  Both Julie Christie and Alan Bates starred together before, in Far from the Madding Crowd (1967), one of my favorite movies.  I of course recognized Julie Christie.  She is, in my eyes, one of the best actresses of all time.

Julie Christie as Marian in The Go-Between (1971).
I like Alan Bates too, but I didn't recognize him as easily.  In both films Alan Bates plays a character of a lower rank in society, and in both films Julie Christie plays someone of higher social status.  However, the personalities of their characters differ quite a lot.  I love Julie and Alan's characters in Far from the Madding Crowd, whereas the characters they play in The Go-Between are far less likable.  I much prefer Far from the Madding Crowd to The Go-Between, but this review isn't about Far from the Madding Crowd.

The Go-Between (1971) does not focus on plot so much as atmosphere.  This is a movie that takes its time and slows its pace, to let the viewer indulge in the atmosphere and feeling of the time period.  This movie beautifully and expertly takes the viewer back to a more leisurely way of life.  The lethargy of summertime reinforces the leisure of Marian's class, and the paralysis of a society frozen in time.   The dysfunction and rot of Edwardian society is revealed by the self-centeredness Marian displays toward Leo.  It is a picture of a society grown obsolete, a photo of a society taken just before change catches up with it in the form of World War I.  The movie has a beautiful soundtrack, though simple, that aids it in accomplishing the somnambulant effect.

There is one breaking point in the suspension of disbelief - and it's quite a common one in films produced in the sixties and early seventies.  Nearly all of the actors' hair styles yell early seventies into my face.  As a result, all I can see when I look at the characters, are people from the seventies dressed up to look like people from the Edwardian time period.  I never really buy that they're living in the early 1900's.  This movie also has a strange and rather disconcerting aspect, which involves the sudden and disjointed cuts to a man (Leo as a middle aged man) in a modern 1950's living room with a T.V., or to 1950's automobiles.  The first time this phenomenon occurred I was extremely confused.  I found it to be very out of place and it seemed to come out of nowhere.  I thought it might have been a mistake, but when the scene was shown a few more times, I realized it was in fact part of the movie.  These cuts are intentional and artistic.  They belie the initial impression that this is a feel-good movie which doesn't aspire to anything more than pretty scenery and a soft palette.  The Go-Between tackles more disturbing themes, and the discomfort that arises from the sudden jarring cuts to the 1950's is present throughout in the tension between the characters.  There is an underlying dichotomy between the prettiness of the visual picture and the ugliness of their society, particularly as it is personified in Marian.  Marian's beauty is outward.  The Go-Between is a coming of age film, as Leo learns to perceive the reality beneath the surface.

Visually, this is a beautiful film.  Stunning scenery from the English countryside radiates throughout the whole film.  The costumes are detailed, impressive, and beautifully designed (especially the women's outfits), and accurate to how people would have dressed in that era.

Marian, lost in thought.
However, if you are one who cannot find interest in a story that focuses on emotions, characters, scenery, and themes rather than an exciting plot, this movie is not for you.  Once again, it has a very slow pace, which may be relaxing, but paradoxically has an oppressive and suffocating side to it.  It is not a movie that glorifies the Edwardian Age.  It is not nostalgia, but a critical appraisal of a past generation.

The Go-Between contains inappropriate content near the ending.  As is stating the obvious and a well known fact, the movie industry has been in the habit of ruining every good movie with some sort of obligatory obscenity, this despite the demand for clean films.  However, as this cannot be helped, I nevertheless recommend this movie, for its beautiful cinematography, acting, and thoughtful thematic treatment.

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