The Go-Between (1970) Directed by Joseph Losey

Our English cinema fest continues here with another 1970s piece. Strangely, The Go-Between is also about a child's experience in the middle of an adult game. (See our review of The Singing Detective for more on childhood experience)

Set in the early-2oth-century upper class mansion, The Go-Between is a visual feast of stylishness and opulence. Julie Christie is the family's daughter soon to be married to a nice rich Lord. But underneath the white dresses and beneath the parasol, there is a woman secretly in love with a neighboring lonely farmer guy. Or maybe it is just sex.

Here is where a child's innocence can be exploited. Enter Leo, 12, a summer guest from a notably poorer background. He is eager to please, to feel a part in the extended family of his school friend's. He roams around the wonderful nature and gardens, he knows the backyard secrets.
He becomes a messenger between Marian (Julie Christie) and Ted (Alan Bates). You can probably guess what happens.

It is significant that the adults believe they can trust a child to hold their secret. They rely on his not understanding what sort of messages he is taking back and forth. Why is Leo up for this postman's role? He is very infatuated with the beautiful Marian who has deliberately been kind to him. For Leo it is fulfilling to have this special secret relationship with her and she exploits his childish love.

Again, sexuality becomes something mysterious and dangerous. Leo knows there is more to love then kissing, but no one is willing to tell him anything. He needs hard and fast facts, but the adults around him have branded sex a sin. As a result Marian is unhappy, Ted dies and Leo is still being exploited as an old man.

I got interested in this film back in the day because I'd heard that my favorite band of the time (The Go-Betweens) had named themselves after it. I actually read the book by Hartley as well, which was a low rent, cheaper version of Lady Chatterley's Lover. Oh, fandom, it leads you down many stray paths.

Then, after I saw The Servant, I became obsessed by Losey and had to track down all his films and was surprised that this was one of them (not paying so much attention when I first saw it). Some basic themes from Losey's previous work are here. The difference between the Classes, forbidden love, a Harold Pinter script. It looks wonderful. It has a busy Michel Legrand piano signature that features one great chord progression. I'm sure this has influenced many an English costume drama. This is a picture of great scenes that doesn't quite stand up as a whole.

It's 1900, and 13 year old Leo (Dominic Guard) goes to spend the summer with his wealthy classmate Marcus in the Norfolk Countryside. He inadvertently becomes messenger for his friends' older sister Marian (Julie Christie) and her secret lover, local farmer Ted (Alan Bates, excellent). It's a coming of age yarn of how Leo loses his innocence as he witnesses the forbidden love between the classes. Stand out scenes include a cricket match (it's always great to see the great game up on the big screen!), Bates singing with Christie on the Piano during a village get together, and the only real evidence this is a Pinter script, Bates' farmer trying to explain what lovemaking is to the young boy.

It's slow and Losey's decision to cut to the future to a grown up Leo for abstract shots of Norwich seems pointless. Another mistake is viewing events from the boys perspective. We only get a couple of scenes of Bates and Christie together during the whole film and perhaps because of this the sexual tension is heightened, but the film lacks that presence overall. Julie Christie always seems to get the slutty woman roles. Subconsciously, that might be her real appeal to a lot of men, despite her being a fine actress.

So, an average Losey film. But that means, compared to other filmmakers, it's still interesting and worth a peek.


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