Judith Farrow (Julie Andrews) is still suffering trauma from the premature death of her husband in a car accident where his vehicle hurtled off a cliff and exploded on landing, so for the next couple of weeks she has taken a break from her job at the Home Office to try and relax on holiday in Barbados, wandering along the beaches and soaking up the sun. However, when she is reading a book before lunchtime, she is approached by a Russian gentleman, Feodor Sverdlov (Omar Sharif) who does his best to strike up a conversation with her in spite of Judith giving off every impression of wanting to be alone. Nevertheless, she relents and soon they are enjoying a meal together, chatting away and falling in love...
The problem with that being their respective occupations back home; she works for the British Government and therefore has access to all sorts of information, not least because she is also on holiday to forget a recent affair with an official, Richard Paterson (David Baron), who is married though his wife hasn't found out about his infidelity. Meanwhile, Feodor is a KGB agent whose bosses have a great interest in him coaxing secrets out of Judith should he manage to get her to fall in love with him, which left the plot of The Tamarind Seed not so much Ian Fleming - in spite of a lush John Barry score and title sequence by Maurice Binder - and more a romantic variation on John Le Carré.
This was Julie Andrews' return to the screen after almost half a decade away, putting two major flops behind her and attempting to prove she still had it in her to be a box office draw. Assisting manfully was her husband Blake Edwards, he not having quite deserted the comedy that had made his name but in this case exhibiting his range with a more sober drama. Indeed, there wasn't one laugh in this, a sombre tone bringing down much in the way of adventure or even a romantic sweep, leaving a curiously nuts and bolts method to telling its tale of spy games and budding affairs. As it turned out, The Tamarind Seed (named after an object which offers Judith some hope in light of what it represents), though far from huge, wasn't a disaster as Andrews' Star! or Darling Lili had been, and continues to enjoy a loyal following to this day.
Which was odd in itself since this was a very un-Julie Andrews role she was essaying, she barely cracked a smile in the whole two hours running time and for most of it looked to be labouring under some of the heaviest burdens life could inflict: maybe her feelings of how much was riding on this role were brought out in her performance. This was contrasted with Sharif, the old smoothie at his smoothest and representing for what you had to presume were legions of Julie's fans just the kind of exotic leading man they could imagine sweeping them off their feet and taking them away from all this. They made quite a nice couple, his Egyptian debonair demeanour a satisfying match with her uptight but yearning Britishness, but the rest of the characters tended to be involved in machinations which would see them broken apart.
That restrictive feeling of others intruding on potential happiness for their own selfish reasons is one often best exemplified by the spy drama, and here it was turned straight up to a high volume, so much so that the lovers appear doomed from the first ten minutes. There were complications in the shape of Feodor's boss General Golitsyn (Oskar Homolka's final movie role, echoing his Harry Palmer appearances in the previous decade) who our hero tells this lovey-dovey business is merely a way of securing those Western secrets, as meanwhile diplomat Fergus Stephenson (Dan O'Herlihy) has his own doublecrossing to put into effect, leaving his wife (Sylvia Syms) both aghast at his corruption and unable to do or say anything about it, another example of how the women get a raw deal and also appealing to Andrews' female fans who liked to relate to whatever suffering female stars were going through. With a sudden action movie climax to wake you out of the brooding of the past two hours, this was better as romance than thriller, but managed a classy, if constrained, air throughout.
[Network's Blu-ray presents a well-restored print and quite a few extras, including vintage interviews with Edwards and Sharif and two John Barry music suites.]