By Scott Ross
L.P. Hartley’s sad, elegiac novel has one of the greatest opening lines in post-war British literature: “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.”
For Hartley’s narrator, that past is one of Edwardian delicacy abruptly and horribly altered forever in one shattering moment. As a young boy, he becomes the unwitting intermediary for a pair of adulterous lovers, with devastating results. Joseph Losey, a Hollywood expatriate forced to flee American blacklisting, had a hit-and-miss career, but this sumptuous adult parable is a masterwork. Alan Bates and Julie Christie are as luminous a pair of lovers as you could wish, the great Margaret Leighton, making one of her rare screen appearances, is unforgettable, and Dominic Guard plays the boy with an exquisite lack of guile.
Harold Pinter wrote the superb screenplay and Michel Legrand composed his finest movie score, a set of variations on a central theme that sums up the narrative and provides an extra frisson of feeling. Utterly magnificent.
Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross