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Summer 1900: Queen Victoria's last and the summer Leo turns 13. He's the guest of Marcus, a wealthy classmate, at a grand home in rural Norfolk. Leo is befriended by Marian, Marcus's twenty-something sister, a beauty about to be engaged to Hugh, a viscount and good fellow. Marian buys Leo a forest-green suit, takes him on walks, and asks him to carry messages to and from their neighbor, Ted Burgess, a bit of a rake. Leo is soon dissembling, realizes he's betraying Hugh, but continues as the go-between nonetheless, asking adults naive questions about the attractions of men and women. Can an affair between neighbors stay secret for long? And how does innocence end? Written by
Richly-detailed period romantic drama, told more or less from a child's viewpoint but treated with the maturity one has come to expect from a Losey film (the main plot is interspersed with fragmented clips of the boy as an old man - played by Sir Michael Redgrave - revisiting the aristocratic country estate where the majority of the narrative takes place).
Though the characters are rather swamped by their surroundings (the two leads are particularly subdued) - as captured by the gleaming cinematography of Gerry Fisher and the elegant décor of Carmen Dillon - the film allows for several good performances from a sturdy cast, including Dominic Guard (as the boy Leo who acts as messenger in the impossible love between upper-class Julie Christie and commoner Alan Bates, both of whom he idolizes), Edward Fox (as Christie's intended, a war-hero), as well as Margaret Leighton and Michael Gough (as her parents); Leighton's role remains in the background for most of the time but, then, she asserts herself during the last third to bring down the couple's relationship - with the unwilling assistance of the bewildered Guard. Besides, Michel Legrand contributes an atypically ominous yet haunting score.
This was the third and last time Losey and screenwriter Harold Pinter worked together, constituting a very fruitful and quite extraordinary collaboration; for about two-thirds of its length, the film finds Losey somewhere near his best - the contemporary subplot where Leo reprises his 'services' for an older Christie works less well, in my opinion (and is too sketchily presented anyway), rendering an already deliberately-paced film somewhat overlong!
THE GO-BETWEEN won the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival, was nominated for an impressive 12 BAFTA awards (winning 4) but received only 1 Oscar nomination (for Leighton as Best Supporting Actress).
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