[Originally published in Movietone News 47, January 1976]
The Romantic Englishwoman affords an unexceptionably witty and civilized film experience from the first shivery glimpse of Glenda Jackson’s double reflection over the passing wintry German landscape to the last of the end credits: “A British–French Co-production”. Losey’s direction has never been more assured; the casting leaves nothing to be desired and the performances are elegantly judged; Gerry Fisher’s color cinematography is coolly ravishing, Richard Macdonald’s design precise and gracefully satirical, Richard Hartley’s score a paradigm of haut-bourgeois tastefulness with just the right hint of romantic susceptibility. Will this review continue as a rave; or is he about to heave a “Yes, but—” sigh? Well, I think we’ll keep it a rave, although at the moment I’ll inject a Yes, but delightfully as the intricate narrative game of The Romantic Englishwoman has been conceived and played, I suspect that it’s a rather self-enclosed exercise à la The Servant—with which it has clear thematic connections—while Accident remains the great Losey picture and the director’s most comprehensive work. I arrived at this only slightly disenchanted view of The Romantic Englishwoman after my second look at the film. On first viewing I was completely enthralled; and because I’d hate to compromise anyone’s similar pleasure, I’d rather say next to nothing about “what happens,” so that the viewer will be free to wonder “Is what I think is going to happen going to happen; and if it does, will it happen as I am led to expect it to; and if happens but slightly deviates from my expectations, how and why will it deviate?”
Briefly, the romantic Englishwoman (Jackson) is on holiday as the film begins, having entrained for Baden Baden to get away from novelist husband Michael Caine and beloved son Marcus Richardson and just maybe have some kind of “safe adventure.” Helmut Berger might provide the means: self-announced poet, privately observed dope smuggler, publicly observed gigolo, casually opportunistic survival artist and full-time critic of society, he keeps crossing Jackson’s path (even when conventional spatial and temporal logic suggests he can’t be there to cross it) and finally joins it as a hotel lift bears them upwards together at two o’clock in the morning. Immediately after this elevator ride, Jackson elects to return home to England. Berger, soon afterwards, follows. And the imaginative husband—to whom it has just been proposed that he write a screenplay for “a penetrating psychological study of the New Woman”—begins to juggle the same possibilities in his mind that the audience has been juggling in theirs.
There. That’s really more than I’d wanted to say: for instance, you should find out that Berger is smuggling dope from the way the film progresses: perfunctory customs interview in his train compartment, followed by a saunter into the toilet, the application of a little perfume, then—a step seemingly of neither greater nor lesser importance in his life—the reclaiming of a brown paper bag full of snow from the utility cabinet under the washbowl. You’ll remember the dope; remember the cologne too. And by all means, enjoy, as Stoppard and Wiseman’s script moves in and out of reality, possibility, reality/possibility and possibility/reality, and Losey’s camera picks up people in motion and people in mirror frames, and Reginald Beck cuts from one scene to another that follows with impeccable, often punning logic, yet follows disturbingly too because we are precisely aware of the alternative options and interpretations poised in the lost events between the scenes. “The realm of possibility is a terrible country,” someone pontificates during the film—and knows he’s pontificating, but speaks the truth for all that. Enough speaking for now. This is definitely one of Losey’s good ones.
THE ROMANTIC ENGLISHWOMAN
Direction: Joseph Losey. Screenplay: Tom Stoppard and Thomas Wiseman, after Wiseman’s novel. Cinematography: Gerry Fisher. Production design: Richard Macdonald. Editing: Reginald Beck. Music: Richard Hartley. Production: Daniel M. Angel.
The players: Glenda Jackson, Michael Caine, Helmut Berger, Kate Nelligan, Michel Lonsdale, Béatrice Romand, René Kolldehoff, Nathalie Delon, Marcus Richardson, Annie Steele.
Copyright © 1976 Richard T. Jameson