This adaptation of Rebecca West’s novel about a shell-shocked soldier returning from World War I to his home in England – and a marriage he can’t remember – has a first-rate cast: Alan Bates as the amnesiac Captain Chris Baldry; Julie Christie as his shallow wife, Kitty (pictured below); Glenda Jackson as Margaret Grey, the former sweetheart he still loves; and – in a spot of off-beat casting – Ann-Margret as his spinster cousin, Jenny.
While some of the conventions of the original novel (written in 1918) may have seemed fresh in their day, they have since become cliches – the amnesia plot has been done to death, as has the dramatic device of a batch of crucial letters that were somehow never delivered. And the laws of coincidence are stretched when we discover that both Chris and Margaret have lost an only child in almost exactly the same way.
None of this might have mattered had there seemed to be more at stake in Chris’ recovery, but the portrait that is etched of this privileged gentleman’s life before he went off to war is an exceedingly dull one, as indicated by Kitty’s recitation of how they spent their evenings in the grand old family home, Baldry Court; “We played bridge and people came to dinner”.
It’s little wonder, then, that Chris regresses to the days of his early manhood when he was madly in love with Margaret, who was below his station but had an irresistible earthy charm. Even though she has become a dowdy, middle-aged housewife who wears the same drab raincoat every time she comes to visit Baldry Court, he still sees her as a lovely young girl.
But even Chris’ attempts to recapture a romantic past smack of cliches. He and Margaret gambol in the fields and taking a rowing boat ride like young lovers in a TV commercial. When the crucial question arises as to whether Chris is better off with or without his memory, it seems almost a moot point.
Ann-Margret, with a perfectly respectable English accent, is a model of restraint as the repressed Jenny, who has long ago made the compromises that Chris still resists, and must hide her romantic feelings for her cousin.
Captain Chris Baldry
Edward de Souza