In 1972, Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) had just seen his first play produced and was a hit with audiences and critics alike, so at the after show party he was soaking up the acclaim from his friends when he felt a tap on his shoulder. Turning around, he saw a little old lady standing there; she looked deep into his eyes and pressed an object into his hand, merely murmuring “Come back to me” by way of explanation before she disappeared back into the evening, leaving him utterly nonplussed. The object was a watch, not one he recognised, and he relegated the experience to just one of those things, but seven years later he found the event playing on his mind – who was this woman?
Why, she was Jane Seymour, somewhere between being a Bond Girl and Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman (or Dr Quimn, Mad Woman as French and Saunders had it), or rather she was Jane Seymour playing for what Somewhere in Time’s ardent fans would be her signature role. Now, this is not a film that won over the cognoscenti by any means, in fact there are just as many people who watch this and leave with the opinion that it is pure treacle, and not particularly tasty treacle at that, indeed they find it very easy to laugh scornfully at its contrivances and endeavours to become a great romantic movie in the same way that the fantasy romances of the nineteen-forties would for the moviegoers of 1980.
However, there is a very strong contingent of adherents who approached Somewhere in Time purely on its own terms, uninterested in irony or cynicism, and found themselves utterly captivated. Those were the followers who established a fan club for the film, meeting at the Grand Hotel in Michigan which served as the main location for special screenings and to get together with their fellow fans to sing the praises of their favourite movie; okay, it’s not a Star Wars convention, but it was a work that generated a tremendous depth of feeling should it hit you in the right way, as it evidently did with these aficionados. Therefore you may find yourself in one camp or the other, as there appeared to be very little middle ground.
It was a time travel story, as Richard’s encounter with the older Elise fires up his imagination during a period of writer’s block that even his favourite Rachmaninoff rhapsody will not alleviate (a piece now synonymous with this movie for the fans), and he starts to investigate. He discovers she was a famous actress back in the nineteen-tens, and the more he uncovers the more he realises they somehow have met back in 1912 – how could this be, when he is still a fairly young man in 1979? The answer to that comes from a college professor he knew, Richard will have to hypnotise himself back in time to be with what he now realises is the love of his life, so it will come as little surprise to learn he succeeds in this journey through the decades and winds up, after a lot of concentrating, at the hotel room of years ago.
As sappy as many regard this, there were bright spots, not least the combination of Reeve and Seymour who made a genuinely charming couple. Reeve in particular channelled Clark Kent to make Richard rather awkward to underline his “man out of time” status, which makes you want him to make a real go of wooing Elise, and she seems to recognise him in a way she doesn’t completely understand: Seymour had a nice scene where she breaks off from the play she is performing to profess her love for Richard who watches enraptured from the audience. As for everyone else in the movie, they hardly mattered, with Christopher Plummer as Elise’s sinister Svengali making the most impression though even that was minor. Still, this did emphasise how the lovers are really the only thing that matters in one another’s lives and why they would each go to such lengths to be with one another. Science fiction and horror maestro Richard Matheson adapted his own novel, and while this flopped everywhere but East Asia at the time, he once again delivered a simple idea that struck a chord with a section of the public, and you wouldn’t begrudge someone that. Music by John Barry.