Joseph Losey's theme here is borders — the limits that we set in order to transgress them.
Borders are arbitrary, disputable. So in the railway car one man says they are in Germany, the other France.
Between them is Elizabeth (Glenda Jackson) who has left her family and posh French estate in search of a cure at the waters of Baden Baden. But she limits her escape to wildness to an intemperate bet at roulette. She spots the handsome young gigolo Thomas (Helmut Berger) but responds with bemusement not lust. The latter is what her novelist husband Lewis Fielding (Michael Caine) imagines for her when on the phone she tells him she's going for a lift (aka elevator). As she lives her life she also lives his more lurid — and cliché — fantasy.
Dashing young Thomas makes a career of crossing borders. He hijacks a hotel dinner cart to sup outside. His passport declares him "poet" — the wilder version of the husband novelist. Rootless and amoral, he delivers hot cars and cool cocaine to shady men and romantic delusions to wealthy spinsters. "The English women are the worst," he says, "They want everything."
That covers Elizabeth: she has the optimum home, cute son, handsome successful loving husband, but she also wants — she knows not what. There is still a fire in her marriage, as we see when she and Lewis make wild love on their lawn, interrupted by their neighbour's headlights (another scene of transgressed borders). The title elides the border between English and Woman.
The other border scriptwriter Tom Stoppard plays with here is that between fiction and life. That's his familiar territory. He made his name with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, the brilliant modernist comedy that moved between the familiar life of Hamlet's play and the off-stage life centered on his two bit-part friends. Our experience of Elizabeth's life is paralleled by — or filtered through? — her husband's attempt to draw a fiction out of his life. He's writing a screenplay (this one?) about a woman who goes somewhere to find herself. To avoid the cliché he tries to turn that into a thriller.
Which is what he does to his wife's life. Lewis likes to set up a life situation to see what will happen. After his phone chat with Elizabeth we see he's having a drink with a scantily clad girl. She's their au pair but Lewis ends his experiment by sending her off to bed. The girl finds herself in another man's plot later when Thomas takes her to a movie, then distracts her from her duties — dangerously — with the pretence to help her English. The girl is fired but Thomas's stay as Lewis's putative secretary continues. The authors survive their characters.
Lewis has invited Thomas first to visit, then to stay, as a kind of experiment. He wants to see what will happen between Thomas and Elizabeth, to see if they have indeed cuckolded him as his aberrant fantasy tells him. As a writer he wants to watch what develops. As a husband he tries to exorcise — or exercise — his insecurity. He is determined to catch his wife at infidelity. He pushes them into the date at which Thomas is spotted by his nemesis, forcing his departure, the brief intimacy with Elizabeth that Lewis catches, and the lovers' escape to Italy (over another border) where they play out their — and Lewis's — doomed fantasy. When Thomas calls Lewis to come take her home, Lewis is followed by the shady men whose cocaine Thomas has lost to the rain and he's finished. He has crossed his last border.
As a vagabond rapscallion Thomas identifies himself with a Fielding character, Tom Jones. Not his fault it's the wrong Fielding. He read him in translation.
The normalcy to which Lewis returns Elizabeth is the sadly escapist party they had planned and — as we did — forgotten. Our glimpse of that festivity is of a desperate, pathetic attempt to kick over the traces — cross the border — of our normal, contained life. That is a hardly promising vision of the life to which the lively wife, reined in, returns. It's yet another scene her novelist husband has arranged for them to "live."
The Romantic Englishwoman
Comedy / Drama
The Romantic Englishwoman
Comedy / Drama
What is real and what is fiction? Faced with writer's block with his novel, Lewis Fielding turns to a movie script about a woman finding herself after his wife Elizabeth returns from Baden Baden. She didn't quite find herself there, but had a brief encounter in an elevator with a German who says he is a poet. Now the German is in England, gets himself invited to tea where he claims he admires Fielding's books. Which one does he like the best? "Tom Jones". Amused at being confused with the other Fielding, the novelist works the German into the plot.
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April 08, 2019 at 06:57 AM