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  Wetherby Perpetual Emotion
Year: 1985
Director: David Hare
Stars: Vanessa Redgrave, Ian Holm, Judi Dench, Stuart Wilson, Tim McInnerny, Suzanna Hamilton, Tom Wilkinson, Marjorie Yates, Joely Richardson, Robert Hines, Katy Beahan
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Last night Yorkshire schoolteacher Jean Travers (Vanessa Redgrave) held a dinner party for her friends. She leads a fairly solitary life outside of her work, unmarried and with no children of her own, but she does like to have her friends over every so often; the night went well, nothing extraordinary occured, nothing that indicated what would happen the next day. Well, there was one thing: the presence of a mysterious young man (Tim McInnerny) who Jean thought was an associate of Stanley (Ian Holm) and Marcia (Judi Dench), yet they thought he was an associate of hers, so who was he?

And more importantly, why did he return the next morning to commit messy suicide with a revolver in Jean's kitchen? For many viewers, the answer to that question is pretty obscure even when the film is over, which is why although Wetherby (the town where this is set) has its fans, they are few while others who have caught it may well react with frustration or disdain. It's true that it did not give up its secrets readily, yet for a story which is about the way events in the now bring up unwelcome events from the then, events that are probably best left buried, it could be that its circumspect nature in how much it gave away was all too fitting.

Take Jean, for one, a woman who has left behind the turning point in her past and has suppressed it, but writer and director David Hare, here making his big screen debut, might not be so keen to leave it where it is, so offers us flashbacks to the time when she was a younger woman in the first flush of love with a serviceman, Jim Mortimer (Robert Hines). He wanted to go off to serve in Malaya, she wanted to wait for him, but was forced to consider life on her own in that quiet town and decided that, against convention, she was going to get educated at university. We can tell by the present day scenes that she never did settle down with anyone, and so the life of loneliness was not one she had any say in.

But what of this mystery man who put a gun in his mouth that morrning? Who is he? The story is made up of a few intertwining strands, which don't always come together in a perfect, solving the jigsaw puzzle manner, offering this muted drama an unsettling, disjointed feel, and not always in a good way either. It's no wonder as Hare refuses to spell anything out that audiences were turned off by it, but fortunately for anyone struggling, Redgrave seemed up to the challenge and managed to make a mild, gently humorous character convey her hidden depths. It is she who put in the best work here, although her co-stars were no slouches either, but Jean remained the heart and soul of the piece.

One of those plot strands concerns the investigating police inspector, Mike Langdon (Stuart Wilson), who finds that one happening can send out ripples just as a stone is thrown into a pond, and so a small gesture can have major consequences just as well as a large one like the suicide. Langdon is so disturbed by the apparent senselessness of the death that it places his marriage in trouble, due to him now being unstuck in a world that previously made sense to him, and he becomes more intent on uncovering the reasons. He too finds himself drawn to Jean, as if she has the solution to all his problems in the knowledge she holds, and it does turn out there was more to the dinner party than she let on.

Another character is the student (Suzanna Hamilton) the dead man, also a student at her university, was obsessed with thanks to her showing him a slight kindness once - you never know what you might do to make a nutter latch onto you is the unfortunate moral you may take away from this, and even though they have him in common, the student and Jean cannot make a connection other than being troubled by the same person. Jean observes the girl is the type of person that others become fixated on, not something the teacher has ever experienced much since those flashbacks, and that was a romance. In their way, each of the characters are prisoners of themselves and how their environment has shaped them, but then again, some will have it that Wetherby was a state of the nation commentary on Fatcher's Britain, as was fashionable; whatever, many will find it too chilly and too much like hard work to fathom. Music by Nick Bic√Ęt.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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