Playwright David Hare’s first film as director, in this case from his original script (in the shadow of Pinter), is a shattering thing to return to after twenty years. Moreover, Hare may have given the greatest English-language film actress of the past half-century, Vanessa Redgrave, her greatest role (best actress, National Society of Film Critics): Jean Travers, the persevering schoolteacher whose “fake cheerfulness” echoes that of Prime Minister Thatcher, and who harbors some envy for the pupil of hers who runs away—from Wetherby, the small town in which nothing happens and education seems pointless.
The spouse of Jean’s closest friend says this about Thatcher, metaphors for whom the film conjures: “She’s taking some terrible revenge for something, and now the whole country is suffering.” (We U.S. Americans during the fake presidency of a likely insane George W. Bush can surely relate.) This gentleman also offers this counsel: “If you’re frightened by loneliness, never get married.”
Jean herself is terribly lonely and haunted by the past. Years ago the boy she loved was murdered while in the service. Now another boy, 25-year-old John Morgan, a graduate student, has entered her life, conning his way into her dinner party and sending her defenses into overdrive by privately expressing their kinship of loneliness, which for several reasons she is driven to deny. The next day Morgan brings her two pheasants, she invites him in, he confesses he knew no one else at dinner the night before and then blows out his brains at Jean’s kitchen table. The police investigator, a former lover of Jean’s, has an ax to grind and his own loneliness.
Hare weaves a fascinating fabric of past and present; some juxtapositions of different time elements startle, illuminate.
Did Wetherby influence Lars von Trier’s Dogville (2003)?
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