It’s 1980 and famous young Chicago playwright Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) finds himself drawn to a 68-year-old photograph of a beautiful young actress whose career reached its zenith in 1912.
The portrait hangs in the red-velvet ‘Hall of History’ in the Grand Hotel on Michigan’s Mackinac Island where he has sought respite from the pressures of trying to write a play that just won’t come.
As Collier investigates the actress, whose name was Elise McKenna, at the local library, he recognises that, incredibly, she is the same stranger who approached him after the performance of one of his works back in 1972, pressed a gold pocket-watch into his hand and whispered: “Come back to me”.
In the best romantic hero tradition, Collier (who is now convinced that he and a young Elise had a transplendent dalliance at this very Grand Hotel in 1912) vows to accomplish the impossible and travel through time to reclaim his lady love.
He succeeds, of course – by dint of a poetic Little Engine That Could approach and sheer brainpower – and, presto, here he is wearing a foppish Edwardian suit and prowling about the hotel grounds like a euphoric sleepwalker.
His initial encounter with the enchantress is suitably mystical; he comes upon her as she strolls by the shores of a nearby lake. Her first words – “Is it you?”
Indeed it is, and although the two are plagued by the obligatory obstacles (including Elise’s latent suspicion of this fervent stranger), they arrange a rendezvous for one glorious hazy afternoon.
They discover that they are Meant For Each Other™ and McKenna (Jane Seymour) injects an impassioned, impromptu declaration of love into that night’s performance at the hotel theatre – a speech that the audience accepts as part of her role – thereby incurring the wrath of her cold-hearted manager, William Fawcett Robinson (Christopher Plumber).
The dastardly Robinson arranges to have Collier spirited away and imprisoned in a stable whilst he makes away with the fair Elise, who is scheduled to depart with her touring company.
The lovers overcome that snafu (and others) and consummate the relationship in a soaring candlelit encounter informed by all the raunchiness one might expect from Mr and Mrs Donny Osmond . . .
But prurience isn’t the point: even though there’s a post-coital picnic-on-the-carpet that echoes stronger stuff like the fig-eating scene in Women In Love, there is nary a bump or a grind to break the spell of this magnificent infatuation.
The rending does occur though – as we know it will – and the moment when Collier is wrenched back to 1980 is absolutely piercing.
The real miracle in all of this is that director Jeannot Szwarc – for the most part – managed to keep the film from descending into utter bathos. Only one or two scenes are real groaners, and – unfortunately – the very last shot is one of them.
We see Collier ascending into some amorphous realm that looks like Warren Beatty’s version of the afterworld in Heaven Can Wait; before him is Elise, who looks just as she did in 1912. The two join hands and walk off into the clouds in a scene that resembles nothing so much as an animated greeting card.
Reeve lends just the right combination of ardour and innocence to the character of Collier; he fairly trails clouds of glory as he carries out his improbable quest.
And the endearing comic touches that distinguished his performance in Superman surface in this film as well – he aces several clumsily written scenes that could have been tinnily unfunny.
Jane Seymour is alluring as Elise McKenna, but she somehow fails to convince us that she is a woman who has spent her career under the domination of a steely creep like William Robinson. Despite the soft period costumes, she has an air of assurance that seems oddly anachronistic.
Somewhere In Time is a film to see when one is willing to suspend one’s disbelief and, most importantly, when one can corral a companion who is willing to do the same.
William Fawcett Robinson
Dr Gerald Finney
William P. O’Hagan
Arthur in 1912
Bones in 1912
Fisher in 1912
Miss Hammond in 1912
Diamond Jim in 1912