leave a comment --Ken Fox
A rare treat catch it while you can. Director David Jones and playwright Harold Pinter's deliciously dark made-for-TV drama was originally broadcast in the U.K. in 1978, but took 25 years to make its U.S. debut, thanks in large part to the subsequent international success of its two stars: Dame Judi Dench and Jeremy Irons. As civil war rages in Spain, time in the Irish countryside is at a standstill for the reclusive Langrishe sisters Helen (Annette Crosbie), Imogen (Dench) and Lily (Susan Williamson) the middle-aged, unmarried remnants of a once grand Anglo-Irish family. Dotty Lily flits about in a world of her own, Imogen pores over stacks of unsent letters and Helen tries to save their mouldering estate home from being sold out from under them while nursing a bitter grudge towards Imogen. A return to the recent past reveals exactly how things came to such a dismal pass. In an effort to save their beloved family home, the sisters let the back cottage to a poor Bavarian student named Otto Beck (Irons). Unbearably pretentious but handsome enough, Otto soon catches the fancy of lonely Imogen and the two embark on a passionate affair, heedless of the silently disapproving Helen. Otto unleashes in Imogen a long suppressed carnality that appalls her sister; Imogen spends all her time at the cottage and neglects to collect Otto's rent, even though Helen has no idea how they can continue to hold onto the house. The story is adapted from a novel by Aidan Higgins, but the writing is pure Pinter: It's only a matter a time before the wine of romance turns to vinegar and Imogen and Otto are at each other's throats. Dench's and Irons's performances have been buzzed about since the film first aired, and rightly so. But the real revelation here is Crosbie, who manages to express years of festering resentment and a lifetime of loneliness simply through her clipped speech and the set of her jaw. Certain scenes, particularly the one in which Imogen is forced to endure a drunken night in Dublin with Otto, a slatternly, one-eyed "actress" (American songstress Margaret Whiting) and her friend (Pinter himself) feel as though they were written for the stage, but are so wonderfully played it hardly matters. And while time and the transfer process has not been kind to the quality of the print, the washed-out palette adds a suitably gloomy patina to the general aura of decay.