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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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Spa towns seem to have an odd effect on film-makers. Alain Resnais' "Last year in Marienbad", set in the Czech spa town of that name, has a reputation for being bafflingly obscure, so much so that it won itself a place in Michael and Harry Medved's "Fifty Worst Films of All Time". And then there is Joseph Losey's "The Romantic Englishwoman", part of which is set in the German spa town of Baden Baden.
The plot concerns Elizabeth, the "romantic Englishwoman" of the title and the wife of a well-known novelist. While staying in Baden Baden Elizabeth has an affair with a young German named Thomas. Or does she? Is it possible that this "affair" was simply a fantasy on her part? Or does it only exist in the mind of her jealous husband Lewis? Thomas, an admirer of Lewis' work, later comes to stay with Lewis and Elizabeth at their home in England, where Lewis makes him surprisingly welcome for a man who is (or whom he believes to be) his wife's lover. There is also a sub-plot about Thomas' criminal associates, led by a man named Swan, who are pursuing him across Europe, but the exact details remain vague.
There is an adage that one should never judge a book by its cover, and the cinematic equivalent would probably be "don't judge a film by the big names in its title sequence". Even if you have admired the other work of those names. Michael Caine (now Sir Michael) is one of the cinema's greatest stars, appearing in some of the best British films of the sixties, seventies and eighties such as "Alfie", "Get Carter" and "Educating Rita". Glenda Jackson is today best known as a Labour politician, but was a fine actress in her youth. Scriptwriter Tom Stoppard is perhaps Britain's greatest living playwright. Losey was best known to me as the director of "The Go-Between", one of the major British films of the early seventies and one of the films which started the "heritage cinema" movement.
Unfortunately, all this assembled talent does not make for a good film. "The Romantic Englishwoman" goes to show that baffling obscurity was not a monopoly of the Nouvelle Vague and that British art-house film-makers could be just as infuriatingly obscure as their French counterparts. (Losey was American by birth, but I count him as an honorary Briton. He was forced to leave Hollywood during the McCarthy era because of his left-wing sympathies and thereafter worked mostly in Britain). I would not quite count this among my all-time fifty worst films, but it is nevertheless a dull and confusing one which not only lacks a clear storyline but also lacks any perceptible point. There are some films where ambiguity can be a positive virtue rather than a fault, but this is not one of them. 4/10
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