Thursday, November 30, 2006

Films of Michael Caine #25: The Romantic Engishwoman

Cast: Glenda Jackson (Elizabeth), Michael Caine (Lewis), Helmut Berger (Thomas), Michael Lonsdale (Swan), Beatrice Romand (Catherine), Kate Nelligan (Isabel), Nathalie Delon (Miranda), Rene Kolldehoff (Herman), Anna Steele (Annie), Marcus Richardson (David).

Crew: Joseph Losey (director), Daniel M Angel (producer), Tom Stoppard and Thomas Wiseman (writers), Richard Hartley (music), Gerry Fisher (cinematography), Reginald Beck (editor), Richard MacDonald (production designer).

Synopsis: Bored English housewife Elizabeth goes on holiday to Baden-Baden in Germany. She meets Thomas, a handsome young gigolo who smuggles drugs. Elizabeth’s husband Lewis is a writer. He imagines her having an affair. Elizabeth returns home but her attempts to reconcile with Lewis are always interrupted. Thomas sees a man called Swan looking for him and flees Germany. The gigolo writes to Lewis and mentions meeting Elizabeth. Lewis invites the German to dinner, to Elizabeth’s annoyance. Lewis lets Thomas stay with them, employing the gigolo as a secretary. The writer bases a character in his new screenplay on Thomas. Lewis finds Elizabeth and Thomas having sex in the conservatory. The lovers flee to France, where Thomas resumes being a gigolo. He calls Lewis and tells him where Elizabeth is. Lewis drives to France, where he is followed by Swan. Swan finds Thomas and leads him away. Lewis takes Elizabeth back to Weybridge…


Thomas Wiseman’s novel The Romantic Englishwoman was first published in 1971. The author collaborated with American-born director Joseph Losey on adapting the book. Losey had helmed noted pictures like The Go-Between (1970) and Accident (1967). Playwright Tom Stoppard then joined the project at the director request. ‘He hardly changed the structure … but he largely rewrote the dialogue,’ Losey told Sight & Sound in 1975.

For his leads the director cast Caine and double-Oscar-winner Glenda Jackson. Caine told Viva magazine he took the role to work with Losey and Jackson. He praised the latter as one of the most brilliant actresses in the world, but added: ‘You only enjoy it professionally with Glenda. She’s charming – but she doesn’t go to lunch, if you know what I mean.’ Losey proved even harder work. Caine bet £10 that he could make the director laugh at least once during filming. He lost the bet. The actor said the part of Lewis was unlike anything he had done before. ‘There was nothing of myself I could bring to that role, so I had to construct the character from the ground up. It was pure performance.’

The picture was filmed in England during Autumn 1974, with location work in Germany and France. Because the movie was being made during the wrong season, Losey shot the middle section first, then the ending and lastly the opening, to get the environments he wanted. This created some discomfort for Jackson, who had to appear naked outside at night for one scene. ‘A film set can be a very draughty place,’ she said in the film’s press book, ‘and a garden in the middle of November isn’t much fun either.’

In his autobiography Caine wrote that Jackson and her on-screen lover, Helmut Berger, seemed to hate each other on sight. Caine found himself acting as intermediary. The production was not a happy experience for him, nor was the end result: ’The film was not only very convoluted it was also downright grim...’ Losey’s first cut ran to 145 minutes, but the director removed near half an hour from this during editing.

The Romantic Englishwoman was released in British cinemas with an AA rating in 1975. Critics were underwhelmed and the response was just as poor in America, where it was rated R. The movie was released on video in 1986, reclassified as a 15, but has since been deleted. The film is available on Region 2 DVD.

Reviews: ‘The most complicatedly trivial film … a highly polished humbug.’ – Observer
‘Caine does well, very well indeed, as the sarky husband, considering that he’d fairly well limited to looking continuously irritated, exasperated and infuriated.’ – Evening Standard

Verdict: Near the beginning of this picture, a film producer describes a screenplay about a woman who goes off in search of herself. Michael Caine’s character describes it as pretentious, derivative and very boring – neatly summing up this movie. The Romantic Englishwoman is a domestic melodrama that tries your patience beyond belief. The three central characters are people you would never want to meet – let along spend two hours watching. Caine gets to shout and play drunk but injects no life into dull, tepid material. The film induces terminal ennui with its witless verbosity and drab visuals. Avoid.

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