“Like a punch in the chest. Put together breath by breath, look by look, lust by lust, lie by lie. A compelling film”.
The complex relationships of an Oxford professor, one of his students, and the young woman who captivates both of them is the subject of this difficult but rewarding drama.
Director Joseph Losey and writer Harold Pinter had previously collaborated on 1963’s The Servant, and they surrounded this recasting of a Nicholas Mosley novel with a similar atmosphere of ominous mystery.
The film starts with a car crash splitting the night air of the quiet countryside outside Oxford.
A male student has been killed, and his female companion – Anna, an aloof Austrian exchange student – is taken into the neighbouring mansion, occupied by the unhappily married, self-doubting, university teacher, Stephen (Dirk Bogarde), who has been instructing them both in philosophy.
The story is then presented through flashbacks and memories that trace the characters’ interactions.
Though the mood is occasionally brightened by satirical views of the academic world, the overall effect is rather sombre, concerned with missed opportunities, unhealthy obsessions, and unavoidable regret.
Bogarde superbly captures the pensive professor’s torment, with able support from Jacqueline Sassard and Michael York as the younger couple.
But the main acting surprise is provided by Stanley Baker, unusually bespectacled as the amorous Charlie, and wittily suggesting the man’s self-esteem and his lonely search for horizontal satisfaction.