Genre: Drama, Mystery
Director/Writer: David Hare
Music: Nick Bicât
Cinematography: Stuart Harris
British renowned playwright David Hare’s feature film debut, WETHERBY was bestowed with Golden Berlin Bear, an honor shared with Rainer Simon’s THE WOMAN AND THE STRANGER in 1985.
In the centre of the story is a mysterious suicidal case, a disaffected young man John Morgan (McInnerney) has shot himself in front of Jean Travers (Redgrave), a middle-aged high school teacher he contacts only one day earlier as an unbidden guest to her dinner party with her married friends. This premise sounds quite unrealistic in real life, but in Hare’s text, everything has been subsumed into a symbolical existence, which leaves the narrative often fragmented, jump between present and past, before-or-after Morgan’s blunt action, achieved by a rapid editing modus operandi. Ellipsis and lacunae, abrupt plot devices, implicit dialogues, those are the weapons in Hare’s possession to challenge viewers’ understanding and assimilation of the whole myth, which also renders his social criticism of its era unobtrusively rapier-like.
The suicide’s repercussions evoke Jean’s buried memory of her youth (play by Redgrave’s daughter Richardson, who is brilliantly elegant in her very early screen presence) in 1950s, when she lost her lover Jim (Hines) who volunteers to fight in British Malaya instigated by some airy-fairy nationalism. She never marries, her life has been perpetuated in the rut ever since, but Jean is not a disillusioned soul, she loves teaching and is beloved by her pupils, she enjoys the company of her friends, particularly, Marcia (Dench, who earns a baffling BAFTA nomination since she is barely required to do anything special here), her best friend since teenage years, and Stanley (Holm), Marcia’s solicitor husband, he and Jean would meet in bars for some drink, have a tête-à-tête or simply enjoy the comforting silence.
Yet, in the eyes of this reticent John Morgan, she shares the same loneliness that has afflicted on him for a long time, to a point he is mulling over the option of suicide, but again Hare’s elusive approach only leaves hints, no exposition, we sees Morgan, a college student, follows Marcia with unrevealed motive and it is through her, his interest alights on Jean eventually, and Hare rebelliously disrupts the narrative thread with sporadic flashbacks until finally discloses what has happened between Jean and John that night, alone, and defiantly, that offers no direct satisfaction to audience either, but trickles of clues might or might not account for John’s decision.
The great Vanessa Redgrave, engages in a palpably compassionate rendition of Jean’s weather-seasoned inscrutability spiked with a tinge of singular vim and vigor, there is a certain modernity in her character which makes her an almost indestructible entity, not even decades of loneliness, that’s where she differs from John, she is a real trooper who admirably holds sway of her own life. Tim McInnerny (mostly remembered as Lord Percy in BLACK ADDER TV series), is consistently nuanced in his feature film debut, John’s pain has never emerged from his blank veneer, but he intrigues our attention every time he materialises.
Saddled with lugubrious dirges and symphonic longueur, WETHERBY is an oddly beguiling film, delving into the mystic vicissitude of human’s mentality with its oblique syntax and an absolutely fascinating lead performer.