Bruce Pritchard (Malcolm McDowell) – a vigorous, healthy and randy young Northern lad with an enormous zest for life and a passion for football (soccer) and “birds” – is suddenly struck down by a disease he can’t even pronounce and finds himself paralysed from the waist down, confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, and suddenly alone in the world.
His mother and father cannot have him in their apartment and his relatives do not want him.
Resentful and bitter, he sets off for a nursing home for the handicapped in the south of England. There he finds he has nothing in common with the other inmates. He is sour, moody and disconsolate and his abrasive and cynical Northern ways are at odds with this genteel Southern establishment.
He spends most of his time alone writing poetry and stories, and it is only when he meets fellow patient Jill Matthews (Nanette Newman), a frail polio victim also in a wheelchair, that he starts to build his life again.
They fall in love and with the sale of one of his short stories, Bruce buys her an engagement ring and they begin making wedding plans.
“I’m much nicer as a cripple,” he tells Jill during their first tender kiss – the result of some difficult manoeuvering of their wheelchairs.
But outside forces once more deal a cruel blow to Bruce. Jill is taken to hospital with a cold and eventually dies.
In the van on the way back to the home he involuntarily wets himself. He is told it doesn’t matter. But to Bruce, everything matters now. “If I don’t believe that,” he says, “I’ve had it.”
Considering what a schmaltz-fest such a storyline could have produced, much of the film is admirably unsentimental. The relationship between Bruce and Jill is surprisingly honest and director Bryan Forbes (husband of star Nanette Newman) lets it speak for itself.
Released in some markets as Long Ago, Tomorrow.