Four British children arrive in the Champagne region of France with their mother, but something has gone terribly wrong and she is seriously illl; immediately on reaching the station in the town where she booked the hotel for them, she is whisked away by an ambulance to hospital. At something of a loss, the eldest daughter Joss (Susannah York) decides the best thing to do is to continue to the hotel, although they have to walk there with their luggage transported by a grumpy porter, but worse is to come. The owner of the establishment tells them that no children are allowed there unaccompanied...
Luckily for them, one of the guests is an Englishman and notices their plight, and offers to take care of them. He is the mysterious Eliot, and he was played by one of the biggest stars in Britain of the fifties, Kenneth More, but this film was made just as his movie career was on the brink of winding down. He was canny enough to adapt and continued in theatre and television which kept his profile high with the public, who genuinely thought the world of him: his portrayal of war hero Douglas Bader in Reach for the Sky was indelibly imprinted on the memories of practically every moviegoer in the nation.
Yet that did not necessarily mean he was perfect for the romantic role of Eliot in this adaptation of Rumer Godden's novel, which had been popular with young ladies of the day ever since its publishing. Indeed, what the part required was a more dashing figure than the avuncular More could portray, but in spite of that he claimed it was one of his favourite of his own films, maybe because it cast him as the kind of person Cary Grant would have been better suited for, although he would have been out of this quiet production's league. This means the crush that Joss develops on Eliot looks to be connected with her absent father rather than their personalities clicking.
Joss and her siblings are not orphans, but their father is away in the Himalayas (!) being a botanist, and now they are without anyone to look after them it's up to her to ensure that they are all taken care of. She latches onto Eliot and he is happy to play the parent, but this means the love affair that seems to be developing between this older man and the sixteen year old girl is cause for more discomfort than any dewey eyed emotion for the audience. All they do is share a couple of kisses, so Eliot is wise not to take things too far, but you could argue he was leading her on and took them quite far enough as it was; the American retitling for the film, Loss of Innocence, tells you all you need to know about the themes.
So it's the old rites of passage, young girl trembling on the brink of womanhood tale that we have seen or heard a few times before, except that when such sequences as Eliot taking the kids out to see the Champagne caves arrive, they don't half look like a dad taking his offspring on an outing - actually, the main guide thinks that is precisely what they are. Complicating matters is the hotelier Madame Zisi (Danielle Darrieux) who really was conducting an affair with Eliot and is reduced to jealous fury when she notices what is going on between him and the teenager. What Joss works out from this is when you do grow up it's not all plain sailing, and what you end up with is the strong possibility of being the cause of someone else's unhappiness whether you intend to or not, which is what she feels so guilty about when Eliot's true identity is revealed. In spite of such scenes as an attempted rape, The Greengage Summer was a rather polite adaptation overall, but it made its point with grace. Music by Richard Addinsell.