Summer 1900: Queen Victoria’s last and the summer Leo (Dominic Guard) turns 13. He’s the guest of Marcus (Richard Gibson), a wealthy classmate, at a grand home in rural Norfolk.
Leo is befriended by Marian (Julie Christie), Marcus’s twenty-something sister, a beauty about to be engaged to Hugh (Edward Fox), a viscount and good fellow.
Marian buys Leo a forest-green suit, takes him on walks, and asks him to carry messages to and from their neighbour, Ted Burgess (Alan Bates), a bit of a rake.
Leo soon realises he’s betraying Hugh, but continues as the go-between nonetheless, asking adults naive questions about the attractions of men and women.
This radiant and evocative adaptation of LP Hartley’s tale of thwarted love and class prejudice set against the halcyon British summer of 1900 was initially dumped by MGM because of its supposed “difficulty” but was subsequently the winner of the Cannes Palme d’Or and a box-office and critical success in the US.
The reputations of both the film and director Joseph Losey went into decline by the mid-1990s (in 1994 The Independent’s Anthony Quinn thought the film “overrated” and part of Losey’s decline) but its complexity of feeling, the undoubted chemistry of its reunited stars Julie Christie and Alan Bates, the lushness of cinematographer Gerry Fisher’s Norfolk landscapes and the critical late-1960s sensibility provided by the acute eye and complex psychological insight of Losey guarantee its lasting appeal.
Marian, Lady Trimingham
Roger Lloyd Pack