The Go-Between

Sophisticated and beguiling and even more relevant than ever, appearing on Blu-ray this month in a shiny new 4K restoration as part of Studio Canal’s Vintage Classics range is one of the greatest British films ever made, Joseph Losey’s 1971 adaptation of The Go-Between, scripted by Harold Pinter from L P Hartley’s novel and starring the hottest talent of the day.

The story unfolds during a long, hot summer in Norfolk in 1900 as twelve-year-old Leo (Dominic Guard) is on holiday from his boarding school and has been invited by his classmate Marcus to join him and his family at their grand country house. Leo is a naive, fanciful boy from a middle-class family who is welcomed with apparent courtesy and civility by the family, however he soon becomes cynically exploited by them because of his naivete and perceived social inferiority.

Upon arrival he develops a crush on Marcus’ beautiful and charismatic older sister Marian (Julie Christie) who takes Leo on a shopping trip to Norfolk to buy him suitable summer clothing to replace the single heavy suit he brought to last him his visit, but it soon becomes clear she has an ulterior motive for the trip. She is involved in a liaison with one of the family’s tenant-farmers Ted Burgess (Alan Bates), and soon exploits Leo’s affection for her by using him as a messenger to deliver clandestine notes to Ted.

As the summer progresses Leo learns that Marian is to take part in an arranged marriage to Viscount Trimingham (Edward Fox), also staying at the house, and ironically the only decent human being in the house party and he treats Leo with genuine friendship and respect, something Leo responds to resulting in a crisis of conscience once he realises the true purpose of his visits to Ted’s farm. Interspersed throughout the film are flash-forwards to the 1950s when the elderly Leo (Sir Michael Redgrave) revisits the house for the first time since that fateful summer.

Hollywood director Joseph Losey had pushed out a series of low-budget features throughout the 1950s upon his relocation to Britain, initially under pseudonyms, and his first major success the 1963 psychological thriller The Servant from which point on he produced a series of major features using the biggest names of the time with varying degrees of success, and The Go-Between could be considered the pinnacle of his career.

Filmed in the summer of 1970 it immediately received universal acclaim and box-office success upon release and swept through the awards, receiving one nomination at the Oscars, eleven at the Baftas, of which it won four, and taking the Grand Prix at Cannes. Shot mostly on location in Melton Constable Hall, the film has a rare immediacy and sense of reality for a costume drama; instead of the staid theatrical filmmaking which was de rigeur at the time for period pieces, Losey deploys some then-fashionable techniques to pique the audience’s interest.

Julie Christie was arguably one of the biggest film stars alive at the time of production and it is hard to imagine anyone else playing Marian, which she did to perfection, and Alan Bates was the perfect foil for her. As Leo, in his first major role Dominic Guard acquits himself extremely well in the company of the distinguished adult cast. The only actor to be Oscar-nominated was Margaret Leighton as the mother of Marian and Marcus, giving a performance of great range and subtlety.

Losey preferred to use jazz musicians to score his films, working extensively with Johnny Dankworth throughout the 1960s, however for this film he chose French composer Michel Legrand who was equally accomplished in jazz, classical and pop composition. He supplied an instantly memorable quasi-classical score which leant heavily on Mozart’s piano concertos for inspiration and which provides a sense of unease and impending catastrophe throughout the film.

In its merciless dissection of the emotional sterility and flagrant entitlement of the English upper classes, The Go-Between touches on themes that remain as relevant today as they were in 1971, and in every way, this film is exceptional; the script, cinematography, casting, performance, and scoring were all supplied by professionals at the top of their game. Considered to be Losey’s masterpiece, he would go on to make another nine features before his death in 1984 but none would reach the heights of The Go-Between.

There are several extras on this release including several archive interviews but the most appealing item is a brand-new conversation with Dominic Guard, now in his sixties, who speaks very fondly of the whole experience, recounting how happy and relaxed the production was which accords with the other interviewees and, apparently, Losey himself who thought it was his most enjoyable shoot.

The Go-Between is available now from Studio Canal



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