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What is real and what is fiction? Faced with writer's block with his novel, Lewis Fielding turns to a film 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 a lift 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. Written by
Dale O'Connor <email@example.com>
THE ROMANTIC ENGLISHWOMAN (Joseph Losey, 1975) ***
From the film's title and credits, I had assumed it would be a hysterical melodrama but, in general, I was pleasantly surprised by the result! As expected from this director, it's a stylish film but not an easy one: in fact, it's been likened to Alain Resnais' LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD (1961) - though it's not quite that mystifying!
Still, the plot does blur the confines which separate fact from fiction, especially in the way novelist/screenwriter Michael Caine bases the affair between a man and a woman who meet while on holiday in a foreign city - and which we see enacted from time to time - on the one he suspects went on between his wife (Glenda Jackson) and a young German gigolo (Helmut Berger) in Baden-Baden. The latter, however, is not as naïve and innocuous as he seems to be; apart from being a crook, when invited by Caine to England, he insinuates himself into the couple's household: charming the nanny who takes care of their child, intriguing the apprehensive Caine (playing a character named Lewis Fielding, whereupon Berger presents himself as an admirer citing "Tom Jones" as his favorite novel - actually written by Henry Fielding!) but who still makes him his secretary, while Jackson is annoyed and evidently uncomfortable with the whole tension-filled set-up.
The three stars are excellent, but Caine's character is especially interesting; curiously enough, when presented with the idea for his script, he finds it boring and proposes to change it into a suspenser but, after realizing that the drama held greater resonance for him than he had anticipated, he is unaware of the parallel thriller subplot wherein Berger falls foul of his criminal associates (led by the smooth Michel Lonsdale)! The cast also features Rene' Kolldehoff (as Caine's extravagant producer), Nathalie Delon (severely underused, despite her "Guest Artist" credit) and Kate Nelligan (as a gossipmonger friend of the Fieldings).
The script by Tom Stoppard and Thomas Wiseman (from the latter's novel) is actually very funny, particularly Caine's explosive put-down of Nelligan on her very first appearance (though when Jackson eventually leaves him for Berger, she goes to see how he's doing and they make up), a society dinner in which Caine ends up drunk and Delon is mistaken for a hooker and, again, Caine's close encounter with gangster Lonsdale. Here, Losey also does some interesting things with his camera (Gerry Fisher was the cinematographer) and Richard Hartley's score is notable, too.
I've only watched this and MR. KLEIN (1976) from Losey's final period (1972-85), during which there were evident signs of decline; even if overlong and emerging, ultimately, as a lesser work, the film is more enjoyable - and rewarding - than could be gleaned from a mere reading of its synopsis...
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