Back in the eighties, brother and sister Richard (Clive Owen) and Natalie (Saskia Reeves) saw each other a little more than they did after their mother and father divorced when they were children, and they each went to live with different parents. However, although they kept in touch, they were never exactly close, with their relationship reduced mainly to taking one another's telephone calls as Natalie would, for example, call him from work to find that he was in the middle of having sex with his secretary. Their lives might have taken different paths, with Richard a property developer and his sister unsatisfied in administrative positions, but once she got married they got to know themselves better...
A whole lot better, as Close My Eyes was a film on the subject of incest, or at least it was on the surface. With writer and director Stephen Poliakoff at the helm, here making his second film for Channel Four, the essential queasiness of the plot was backpedalled for attractive photography and posh people having conversations that keep threatening to boil over into full blown arguments. There was no doubt that he had hired a capable cast, and with Alan Rickman as Sinclair, Natalie's new husband, it was a pleasure to hear the classy dialogue spoken with such skill, particularly from Rickman, but for all the warmth of the summer sun, the film is a cold and distant experience.
What happens is that the marriage prompts Richard and Natalie to get acquainted with each other better, after a couple of false starts where the too-busy Richard keeps standing his sister up, but he does get to meet Sinclair at a lunch party at his lavish house in the Home Counties. Natalie is having trouble with the union as she feels out of her depth with her intellectual spouse, which it is implied is what sends her into the arms of someone she does feel comfortable with - far too comfortable, as it turns out. She meets Richard at his flat and suddenly she is kissing him and before you know it they have broken the law with each other.
There is more to Close My Eyes than a spot of taboo-shattering, as Poliakoff evidently had it in mind to make a comment on the state of the nation now that Margaret Thatcher had had her wicked way with the country, so we are supposed to draw parallels between the poisonous affair, which starts as something the couple believe to be essentially harming nobody, and the way that the British capitalists of the eighties told everyone that if we did as they said everyone would have a fine old time. There are consequences to both, and Poliakoff appears to be saying that they are both equally damaging in the bigger picture, from the small scale siblings to the fallout from the promotion of selfishness that had been going on for over a decade at the time this was made.
Which is all very well, but it's a bit of a stretch and the two threads never merge to any great satisfaction. With the occasional shot of a tramp or two, or Sinclair opining on the matters of the way the country is heading - the "End of the World" is mentioned a fair few times, this could be a typical Sunday night drama of the kind that was all over Channel 4 like a rash around this era, so whether it really has something useful to say about its setting is a moot point. Not that Poliakoff doesn't try to make this a snapshot of the last years of the Tory rule in Britain and how decadent he perceives them to be, so Richard's boss Colin (Karl Johnson) ends up with AIDS just to keep things current, and Sinclair wants to leave the country to move to America as he sees the boom years are over in his home nation. It is certainly refreshing to see what could have been pure sleaze have so much going on in its head, but that doesn't necessarily amount to much entertainment as the drama is mainly informed by the British dread of making a scene in public rather than any perverted passions. Music by Michael Gibbs.