Two girls, Ginny (Alison Elliott) and Carol (Debbie Linden), are hitchhiking along a motorway in the south of England, travelling from Nottingham to their London homes, when they are picked up by a truck driver. He takes them to a transport cafe where he buys them a coffee and introduces them to his buddy, evidently hoping to take things further judging by the way he has been running his hand over Carol's thigh on the journey, but Ginny is reluctant and heads off on her own, leaving her friend to it in the cab parked in a leafy side road. In the meantime, Ginny is picked up by a Good Samaritan, Mike Beresford (James Aubrey), a songwriter who might be wondering if he's in for a good time...
Director Pete Walker was always on firmer ground with his horror movies and their peculiarly nineteen-seventies, British sensibility but when it came to branching out into other ventures, that ground became considerably shakier. Nowhere more so than in Home Before Midnight, which he might have wanted the audience to believe was a serious drama on an equally serious subject; while the latter was certainly true enough, the former left a production straining manfully for adult sophistication yet only wound up wanting for anything so considered and thoughtful. Once you knew what the issue Walker was grappling with was, you could begin to mark off all the places where he was going wrong.
They might well have been apparent back in 1978 - or 1979, since the film was held over for a year - but watching it in the twenty-first century all those missteps and that deliberate getting the wrong end of the argument, not to mention presenting the problem in hand with the crassest mindset possible remained on the side of morality in its own opinion, if not yours. Of course, it's easy to look back on the past and judge its social mores, or lack of them, by the standards of the time you're living in, but this took its issues from contemporary, still relevant concerns and here they were extremely difficult to ignore, as difficult to dismiss as the frequently laughable attempts at savoir-faire as though Walker and his screenwriter Murray Smith were cultured gentlemen about town and not looking to make excuses for randy blokes who don't know how to control themselves.
It wasn't rape that was on the table here, it was a grown man having sex with an underage girl, as Mike and Ginny fall in love without him knowing she's fourteen years old, but then after he finds out he continues the relationship until her parents discover what they've been up to. Fair enough, there was a basis for an emotive melodrama here, but when you saw the amount of times Walker shot scenes of Ginny in a state of undress, almost always entirely gratuitously, then you had to wonder what kind of person - what kind of man, really - he was appealling to. Needless to say actress Elliott was over eighteen years of age at the time, and looked it, as was her screen schoolfriend Linden (who adds a rather ghoulish interest after the fact as she died young of a heroin overdose in real life).
But if Walker had used a fourteen-year-old actress would he have shot the same scenes? Of course not, he'd be breaking the law for a start, which is what makes Home Before Midnight so ludicrous as a sincere examination of its subject. So if you couldn't take any of that seriously, what was there left to entertain? Plenty if watching none more seventies cultural resonances was your thing, with the band Mike writes for one of those plentiful instances of a fictional world devising a pop reference failing to ring true in the slightest: the beat combo, played by Sky High hitmakers Jigsaw (then past their prime by three years) plus Mick Jagger's brother Chris Jagger miming lead vocals, were called Bad Accident and their current record was graced with the name Tommy T-Shirt, something we blessedly don't get to hear. Add in "as themselves" Radio 1 DJs Anne Nightingale (interviewing on TV) and "Diddy" David Hamilton (uncomfortably lecherous) and the results were pickled for all time in the late seventies, supposedly sympathetic to all parties but actually backing the wayward and flustered Mike all the way.