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  Triple Echo, The Gentlemen's Excuse Me
Year: 1972
Director: Michael Apted
Stars: Glenda Jackson, Oliver Reed, Brian Deacon, Anthony May, Gavin Richards, Jenny Lee Wright, Kenneth Colley, Daphne Heard
Genre: Drama, War, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: It's Britain during World War II and Mrs Alice Charlesworth (Glenda Jackson) has been living alone, except for her pet dog, in her isolated farmhouse since her husband was captured by the Japanese and is now a prisoner of war. One day, she confronts a soldier from the local army base walking across her land, and they strike up a friendship; he is Private Barton (Brian Deacon), and he hates the army. Soon, he is spending all of his free time with Alice, and when he receives a few weeks' leave, he forgets about visiting home and moves in with her. Then he makes the decision that will lead to tragedy for them both - he will desert and stay with her...

Written by Robin Chapman from a novel by H.E. Bates, this curious wartime drama starts off conventionally enough, with the couple enjoying an idyllic countryside existence, living off the land, mending the tractor, making friends with the dog, and generally indulging in a romance in secret. They hardly know there's a war on, the only contact they have with the outside world is when Alice goes along to the village shop, where she makes the most of her chickens by trading their eggs for much needed produce such as meat. But when Barton decides he wants to remain with her, as if things will be like this forever, the film gets more than a little strange.

Despite them both being so out of the way, Alice comes up with a disguise and cover story for Barton so as not to arouse suspicion. He can't be her brother on sick leave, because sick leave won't last long enough, so he dresses in drag to become her sister, complete with padded bra and lipstick. Alice names him Jill, and is forced to tell the shopkeeper about her/him to explain the need for more groceries, so the word gets round the small community and eventually to the army base. What has previously been eccentric now grows threatening with the arrival of the character who will shake things up decisively for the pair.

That character is Arthur, a sergeant played with great flair by Oliver Reed. He makes his entrance in an appropriately thunderous tank, churning up the fields with its tracks, and when he notices Alice and her supposed sister, he takes an interest. Making up an excuse about a sore throat to cover Jill's lack of conversation, Alice is very reluctant to have the sergeant any where near them, and Reed's performance sets everything on edge, especially when he starts lusting after Jill. Antagonistically jokey and chummy, he is the epitome of the macho lout, who has only one thing on his mind and means to get it, so that the scenes where he chats up Barton are both peculiarly amusing and suffused with a feeling of dread, which is underlined by Jackson's portrayal of loneliness-turned-desperation.

It's only a matter of time before Barton is found out, but he makes life difficult for himself. Although it's the premise for any number of comic sketches, The Triple Echo plays it straight for the most part - Some Like It Hot this isn't. Alice and Barton's relationship is strained as he is frustrated by the claustrophobic nature of the ruse (and perhaps enjoying it too much), so that he eventually agrees to go with the sergeant to the Christmas Eve dance at the base, for a bit of "fun". Obviously the story would have no dramatic tension if Barton wasn't found out, but he acts like an idiot - what did he expect the sergeant wanted to do, thinking he was a she? What follows has a horrible inevitability, and Alice is put in the position of mercy bringer, but what stays with you are the bizarre sexual politics where Barton wanted to enjoy himself as a woman, although still in love with Alice, and the heterosexual aggression and homosexual humilation of the sergeant ended with violence. You can't imagine anyone here laughing the situation off. Music by Marc Wilkinson.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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