Go-Between (1971): Losey’s Masterpiece Starring Julie Christie and Alan Bates

In 1971, “The Go-Between” was adapted from the novel by the playwright Harold Pinter in his third and most successful collaboration with director Joseph Losey, after “The Servant” and “Accident.”

Stylishly elegant and deftly directed with painstaking attention to detail, “The Go-Between” is one of Losey’s most acclaimed and popular movies, a winner of the top prize, the Palme d’Or, at the 1971 Cannes Film Fest.

L. P. Hartley’s novel, which was published in 1953, begins with the following astute statement, “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there,” which sets the tone for the ensuing tale.

Essentially a memory film, the story begins with the reminiscences of Leo Colston (Michael Redgrave), now a bitter, elderly man looking back on his childhood with decidedly mixed feelings. The older Leo, who narrates the tale, is exactly the opposite of the vivacious, courageous, and hopeful young Leo.

Most of the story is set in the summer of 1900, which Leo spends in Norfolk as a guest at Brandham Hall, the luxurious estate of his school friend Marcus Maudsley (Richard Gibson). The young Leo, on holiday from boarding school, is an outsider, a poor boy among the upper class. Leo’s humble background is obvious and he doesn’t really fit in there.

Nonetheless, his hosts do their best to make him feel at home, treating him with gentle kindness, as one of their own. When Marcus falls ill, Leo is left on his own. Bored and eager to do something, he becomes a secret “go-between” for Marian Maudsley (Julie Christie), the daughter of the rich family, and Ted Burgess (Alan Bates), the handsome tenant farmer.

Leo is all too happy to help Marian because he develops a crush on her. At first, he is unaware of the meaning or contents of the messages he delivers. As a good-hearted, innocent boy, he easily becomes the object of manipulation.

Since Ted comes from lower social class than Marian there is no future in the relationship. Sexually attracted to each other, Marian and Ted are fully aware of this fact, Leo is too naive to understand why the lovers have to meet secretly and cannot marry. The situation gets more complicated when Marian becomes engaged to Viscount Hugh Trimingham, a wealthy and influential member of the nobility, turning her secret relationship with Ted dangerous for all concerned.

Eventually, Leo begins to comprehend the real nature of the relationship, and feels increasingly uncomfortable about the deception and risk involved. Leo tries to end his role as go-between, but under pressure he’s forced to continue.

The cover for the affair is blown, when the suspicious Mrs. Maudsley (Margaret Leighton) forces Leo to take her to the meeting place of Marian and Ted. Ultimately, Leo’s involvement as messenger between the lovers has disastrous consequences.  The trauma which results when Marian’s family discovers the truth leads to Ted’s suicide.

The experience affects Leo badly, leaving him damaged with permanent psychological scars. He grows up to be a detached adult unable to establish intimate relationships. Although Leo learns to accept his past, he never quite manages to move beyond it and live an emotionally fulfilled life.

When Leo looks back on the events through the eyes of a mature adult, he is aware of the huge mark the incident has left on him. In a final twist, a truly smashing climax to the story, set 52 years later, the elderly

Marian persuades Leo to act as go-between one more time.

The novel and film depict with sensitivity the intriguing themes of children’s loss of innocence, class and gender barriers, and the impact of taboos on individuals and society.

 

Oscar Alert

Oscar Nominations: 1

Supporting Actress: Margaret Leighton

Oscar Context:

In 1971, the winner of the Supporting Actress Oscar was Chloris Leachman for “The Last Picture Show.”

 

Cast

Marian Maudsley (Julie Christie)

Ted Burgess (Alan Bates)

Leo Colston (Dominic Guard)

Mrs. Maudsley (Margaret Leighton)

Older Leo (Michael Redgrave)

Mr. Maudsley (Michael Gough)

Hugh Trimingham (Edward Fox)

Marcus Maudsley (Richard Gibson)

Denys (Simon Hume-Jendall

Kate (Amaryllis Garnett)

 

Crew

Produced by John Heyman and Norman Priggen

Directed by Joseph Losey

Screenplay: Harold Pinter, based on the novel by L.P. Hartley

Camera: Gerry Fisher

Editor: Reginald Beck

Music: Michel Legrand

Art direction: Carmen Dillon

Costumes: John Furniss

Running time: 118 Minutes

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