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This is one of the most beautiful, and heartbreaking, films that I have
seen. The story of a shell-shocked soldier who, in order to escape the
horrors of the war in which he has been involved (WW I) retreats to some
inner world of the past. He loses all sense of reality, and becomes
entrenched in a time before his marriage, the loss of his child, and the
pressures of adulthood. Played by the magnificent and tragically departed
Alan Bates, the title character Captain Chris Baldry, takes refuge in a
that existed twenty years before, when he was a young man with his life in
front of him. The object of his affection, Glenda Jackson, is now a
aged woman, but he sees her with the eyes of love, and she is for him the
youthful beauty with whom he fell in love decades ago. His wife, a
and uncaring Julie Christie, wants him to regain his sense of the present,
because she misses her social status. His first love does not initially
believe that he should be roused back to consciousness, because she wants
him to remain in a happy, albeit unrealistic state. His cousin (played by
an unusually good Ann-Margret), a woman who has loved him in secret since
the days of their shared childhood, is in a middle place between the two,
wanting him back, and yet appreciating the fact that his unawareness and
psychological trip backward in time is bringing him a sort of
Ultimately, the women join forces and realize, with the help of a psychiatrist, that the man they love must be roused from his reverie. The final scene, in which he is brought face to face with reality, is wrenching and difficult, and Sir Alan is able to show with the straightening of his shoulders and the stiffness of his gait that he has returned, sadly, to the present. It is an unspeakably sad performance, of great beauty.
I was reminded, when watching this film, of another film which focused almost entirely on character as opposed to action: "Charly" a film based on the book "Flowers for Algernon" In that movie, which garnered an Academy Award as Best Actor for Cliff Robertson, depicted how an individual who has been moved into a different reality (a retarded man becomes, for a short while, intellectually gifted)can capture a few moments of happiness, which must be sacrificed when he returns to his prior state.
Similarly, the film 'Awakenings' with Robert De Niro tells the story of a man who languished in a coma for many years, and was allowed, through the use of an experimental drug, a few weeks of happiness, a few brief moments to experience life, before the veil of unconsciousness was once again drawn over him when the drugs stopped working.
These stories of people who find happiness in small, short snippets of time, are incredibly moving, and underscore the brevity of life, and the importance of living each moment to its fullest extent.
The Return of the Soldier is truly a tour de force, very sad, very beautiful, and incredibly well-acted. I would strongly recommend it to admirers of Alan Bates, and all those who want to be deeply engaged by a film.
It's a perfect film, and Ann-Margret with little or no makeup, mousy
brown hair and a -- to my ears -- perfect British accent might have
been totally unrecognizable if I hadn't already known she was in the
cast. I can't say I was totally surprised at how good she was, since I
have liked all her performances since Carnal Knowledge (I could just
weep over all the wasted years and crummy movies preceding it), but the
way she held her own as an Englishwoman with the royalty of the British
screen was pretty impressive.
Bates is utterly heartbreaking and Jackson is quite wonderful. She is at, almost, her least physically attractive, which adds to the poignancy. Christie on the contrary, as a selfish and shallow beauty, really IS a beauty in the film, still, which adds to the interest. She is being overlooked in favor of Jackson, to whom the years have not been kind.
Before she went into politics or public service, Glenda Jackson was one of Britain's finest film actresses. This film displays her talent despite having a supporting role in a stellar cast that includes Julie Christie as Kitty, the wife of a British Royal Captain who has lost his memory of the last 20 years, and Jenny played by American Ann-Margret in an almost unrecognizable role as the doting sister. Alan Bates plays the captain who suffers from memory loss triggered by the shell shock during World War I. Sir Ian Holm has a smaller role as the doctor treating him. You see familiar faces like Sheila Keith, Patsy Byrne, and Frank Finlay. You can't help but watch Glenda play a dowdy housewife and the first true love of the Captain but they came from different classes. It's not the greatest movie but it's good to see Glenda's amazing talent. She is still a fantastic actress, comedy or drama. She makes Margaret Grey into a likable character and you see why a regal captain fell in love with her.
This is superb - the acting wonderful, sets, clothes, music - but most
of all the story itself.
I am amazed there aren't more reviews of this movie - certainly one of the best of the 1980s.
It's also a wonderful movie to see in tandem with the great "Random Harvest" which has much the same opening crisis
-- a middle aged, unknown English W.W.I officer is in a hospital toward the close of the war, suffering from shell shock and complete amnesia without any idea of his name, origin, or anywhere he belongs - he proves to be a very wealthy established man - when he "recovers", he will not remember the years before the war --
But there the movies' resemblances end.
My warmest thanks to all who participated in the movie - particularly the actors Ian Holm, Alan Bates, Ann Margret (what a great and surprising casting choice), Glenda Jackson, Julie Christie.
This one stays with you forever.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
just saw this exquisite 1982 movie Return of the Soldier, based on
Rebecca West's novel. Its about a shell-shocked fortyish Captain who
doesn't even tell his wife he has returned to British soil, but remains
in a hospital in London. He's lost his memory and is a boy again, with
a lingering yen for the lower class sweetheart he pursued 25 years
earlier. Its a delicate story. He is lingering in his boyhood, while
the reader discovers his wife is an unbearable, aspiring socialite who
wants him to resume his place in society. Living with them is his
cousin Jenny, who loved Chris Baldry the soldier, when they were
growing up as playmates, but has settled into spinsterhood. The lower
class woman, played by Glenda Jackson, is Margaret Gray. It is SHE who
is notified that Chris is back in England. Chris' wife Kitty is shocked
when Mrs. Gray comes to tell her that Chris is in a hospital in London.
Kitty (Julie Christie) is vacuous and snobbish. Why, she asks herself,
was this other woman sent a telegraph about Chris rather than her?
Chris has forgotten totally about Kitty. He wants to renew his
relationship with Margaret. The now married Margaret is reluctant to
meet him, but then does and continues to meet with him. There is a
psychiatrist (Ian Holm) who warns Kitty and Jenny that Chris' temporary
happiness with Margaret will disappear if he 'cures' him. Jenny
realizes how empty Kitty is for Chris and forms a secret loving
alliance through Margaret. They both are in love with him. Jenny wants
to help. Late in the film Kitty reveals that Chris and she had a boy
who died five years ago. Telling Chris this, weighs the Shrink, will
certainly restore him to 'normal.' But is this a good idea? Chris,
barely aware that he and Kitty were ever married, is unaware of his
child and the child's death. The psychiatrist, just learning of the
child, believes such knowledge will restore Chris. Jenny and Margaret
have Chris all to themselves because Kitty believes he is faking and
refuses to accept Chris's illness in reverting to his youth in his
forties. The film leaves her mostly out of consideration concerning
whats to be done with Chris.
But Jenny and Margaret, in the child's perfectly maintained bedroom- with Kitty too in the novel, but not in the screenplay- discuss what they believe should be done about Chris from their separate perspectives. Margaret is the critical one here, because, though married, she has half fallen in love with Chris again. Jenny's social stature, Jenny believes, will be threatened if Chris does not right himself. She does not reveal this to Margaret, however. Margaret decides, looking ahead, that Chris cannot maintain his fantasy over time, but must return to something like a real life. While Kitty and Jenny look on from the window of the house, Margaret approaches Chris outside and tells him of his lost son. The buoyant war victim's head sinks, his shoulders slump, he looks away. He walks dejectedly toward the house. Fin
I read some criticism of this first novel of Rebecca West. The novel was written something after the first war. The movie is never quite clear who Jenny is, his cousin or his sister. It would be more rousing if she were his sister, of course. The criticism doesn't make it clear either. I'm sure West in her novel, makes sure Jenny is her cousin, not her sister. West is no Henry Miller nor an Anais Nin, whose book Incest (about her relationship with her father as an adult to get even with him for molesting her as a child) I considered reading, but then decided against. Rebecca the author has a need to restore Chris too. She too has outposts in her head for the Society her novel excoriates first but finally embraces once more.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Lyrical, leisurely paced drama enacted by giants of the acting world.
For those who have no patience for a story that plays out in measured
parts this film is not for you, but if you are willing to allow a film
to reveal itself slowly you'll be richly rewarded. All four leads are
award worthy although all went unacknowledged in that year's honors.
Alan Bates offers up a beautifully controlled performance as Chris Baldry a man who has lost his identity in the war. Working in a childish almost trance like state to reconnect with the part of his life that to him is immediate but is actually long in the past his vulnerable yearning is deeply touching. He is simply great.
Equally magnificent are his three leading ladies, all the more so for them since all three are cast against their established images.
Ann-Margret is close to unrecognizable as Bates cousin the sedate, caring Jenny. Hers is the smallest of the three woman's roles but buried under a dark wig with no makeup she still manages to make an impact and hold her own against the powerhouse trio who drive the film.
Glenda Jackson subsumes her normal tough often strident personality into the quiet, gentle lower class Margaret Grey who the searching Chris' remembers as his great love. Forsaking the grand gestures that often mark her work as queens and countesses she is entirely convincing as the working class housewife transformed back to a sort of beauty by the remembrance of a long ago love.
Julie Christie is perhaps most impressive as the haughty, closed in Kitty, the amnesiac Chris' forgotten wife. Always secure in her position and place in the world up until the moment of Chris' return she conveys Kitty's newfound uncertainty in small darted glances and the brittle armor her upbringing has provided to protect her from the vagaries of a world from which she has always been removed. There is a scene played mostly in profile at a window and with minimal dialog in which she imparts so many emotions in a short period of time it's takes the breath away. Not just some of the best acting she's ever done but some of the best ever put on screen.
Aside from the main quartet the only role of any substance is essayed by Ian Holm as the therapist trying to lead Chris back through the mists of his puzzlement. He is fine as usual but he is rather sidelined by the acting fireworks of the main four.
Richly appointed and lovingly shot this is for fans of great acting and adult storytelling.
This expensive, mainstream UK/US co-production,backed and distributed by 20th Century Fox, was at its Premiere at the Cannes Film Festival,shamelessly overlooked! They called it a well made,TV mini-series look-a-like, overly coated with thick layers of saccharine wanna be romantic drama. Since,after such poor reviews,despite the huge international Cast,and its enchanted settings, this wonderful,delicate,yet very poignant adaptation of one of Rebecca West's more controversial novels,ever, an extremely beautifully produced, extraordinarily acted moving,psychological period story,was cursed by bad Distributions worldwide, and I finally got to see it when i was about 15, in NYC in 1984, where, again, despite a fine launch,the movie was yet very quickly dismissed by main critics. I always loved Julie Christie and Glenda Jackson,and I remember almost forcing my mother to the Theater in one late spring,chilly rainy afternoon! I was expecting a true misfire and was just interested to see the Stars, whom, as we all know too well, have chosen way too many years ago, not to work very often (however Christie had huge and rightly raved come back's in the 1990's on stage or in great films like Universal's "Dragonheart",and as the lead Queen Gertrude in the stellar, big studio rendition of Kenneth Branagh's superb "Hamlet",followed by a Best Actress Oscar nominations and Best Actress Indy Spirit Awards Winner for her mesmerizing turn in Robert Altman's production of Alan Rudolph's "Afterglow" in 1998, and then has worked in very interesting films like Hal Hartley's also underrated "No such thing" in 2001,played Brad Pitt's mother in "Troy"(2004),was excellent in the wonderfully touching,Awards winning "Finding Neverland"(2005) and had a personal triumph, as Fiona,the still beautiful,Alzhaimer's disease affected lady who forgets her husband in Sarah Polley's outstanding Awards winner "Away from Her" in 2007,while she'll be just paired opposite Robert Redford's in the much awaited big budget political thriller "The Company you keep" due out next Awards Season! And forgive me for all this extra info on Christie, but It just excites me,that we are at least be able to see her, and forever haunting and gorgeous in very selected films, at least, while,Jackson has unfortunately left the scenes,apparently for good,in the late 1980's!). Well, once the tail credits of "The Return of the Soldier" were rolling, I noticed tears on my mother's eyes, and I was like electrified. While i can understand that today,still remaining a great solid film, has lost all that mystery and unique impeccable period reconstruction, and cinematography's merits, due to the almost overwhelming abundance of period romantic drama's that followed in the 1990's, and not just from Merchant-Ivory's, but also from many others, and not always so exceptional, as they were then reviewed, you have to understand that back then,i guess in early 1984, a so classic structured film,shot with such an innovative use, of flashbacks,haunting,dark and saturated cinematography,embracing some of the loveliest possible tones of a canvas,its unique editing and also formidable scoring, were not so common! I actually truly believe that the Cult that this film has developed (mostly in Europe) has certainly inspired all those numerous British/US co-productions that became instead so wildly popular in the 1990's and,again, not all of them, as good! Mother and I were stunned, by the film, its simple yet extremely moving twist at the end, a few very dramatic revelations, just staged with almost strict attention to measure, and,of course,besides the extremely sensitive,refined work from extremely focused director Alan Bridges (here at his very,very best,both with the sophisticated,yet deeply haunting narration,to the strong-back then- lovely and personal visual choices), we were delighted by the work of all the cast: a deeply penetrating performance from Jackson,a role that only Christie's natural Iconic talent could have made even sympathetic at the end, and certainly so gorgeous to look at, an extremely controlled,measured Alan Bates,here really offering almost a new face to his whole career, and the surprise of watching adorable, Ann-Margret, without make up and playing flawlessly, against type, the role of shy, sweet,if repressed and lonely, relative,kept in the wealth of her house by Kitty(Christie),almost more like a servant,or a useful house guest, than a real close and devoted relative. I can only say that,immediately back then, we sent many people,who were not truly convinced about going to a Theater to watch this excellent movie,always calling us back to thank us for the pitch or even so emotionally touched to want to come over over tea to discuss it! And throughout the years, I always heard incredible things about it,from almost anyone's with a certain sensibility for a superior,more eloquent and artistic type of filmmaking! And i can only still highly recommend it to most people: but please,just make sure to get a greater DVD widescreen copy, and not,another TV formatted, and brutally cut for commercials copy: this is a movie, rich of its own and unique fascinating atmosphere, and like a painting, should be appreciated at its best and most respectful vision, and not in some pan and scan TV version! Enjoy.
Everything about this film is brilliant, and it is one of the finest films to come out of England in the 1980s. Alan Bates, Glenda Jackson, and Julie Christie, all give some of the most glowing and inspired performances of their entire careers. The film is based upon a haunting novel by Rebecca West (undoubtedly based on real situations she had encountered when she was young), with an excellent script by Hugh Whitemore. The film's evocative atmosphere is immensely powerful, aided greatly by the excellent musical score by Richard Rodney Bennett, which brings out the flavour of the film as salt, garlic and rosemary bring out the flavour of roast lamb. The editing is particularly good, by Laurence Méry-Clark. Ian Holm, Frank Finlay, and Jeremy Kemp are all very good in their supporting roles, which are relatively small. A surprise is Ann-Margret as Cousin Jenny, a major role. For a good-time American girl involved with the Rat Pack in Las Vegas, to play a repressed English spinster of 1918 to perfection was no mean achievement, and shows she was a real actress. Such versatility, and it is a pity she did not do more of that. The direction by Alan Bridges is exquisitely sensitive and nearly perfect. His other major achievements were directing THE HIRELING (1973, see my review), and THE SHOOTING PARTY (1985). He ceased working as long ago as 1990. He was a truly inspired director, most of whose output was of quality television which is not available to see today. This tragic tale concerns an English soldier, Captain Baldry (Alan Bates), who has returned from the First War with shell shock. He cannot remember the last twenty years of his life. Such cases did occur, and all this is not just made up. Julie Christie (who in real life is a sweetie) plays the horribly snobbish, vain, unfeeling wife of Bates who takes personal offence that he cannot remember her and does not find her attractive. She has little concern for his welfare or mental heath but keeps trying to force herself and his former life back on him, inviting neighbours to dinner the night after he returns home, with the opposite results to what she intended, of course. Her insensitivity to others is exceeded only by her self love. Bates under-plays his role, which makes it all the more effective. He cannot believe the vacuity of his former existence, and after asking Christie to tell him what their life together had been like and what they used to do all day, he says pathetically: 'Is that all?' They live in a grand house in the country and are exceedingly rich, with their house full of servants. All he can think of is his first great love, when he was twenty, a girl named Margaret (Glenda Jackson). She is found and meets him again after twenty years. She is married, as he is, and we eventually learn that each has a lost a child of the same age in the same year. In a wonderful and poignant scene with Cousin Jenny, Jackson says mournfully of the two lost children: 'It's as if each had only half a life.' Jackson is still in love with Bates and had never ceased to be. They lost touch because of circumstances when young, and now their love has come back. Bates keeps telling her he loves her, and acts like a boy of twenty again when he is with her. Christie seethes with rage but can do nothing, as all her attempts to insult Jackson are water off a duck's back, and merely drive her herself further into irrelevance. Cousin Jenny is wholly in sympathy with Bates but is exposed as hopelessly ineffectual. She lives a wan existence in the huge household, as a family retainer with no future of her own. The subtlety with which all this is enacted and portrayed is what could be called 'the best of English tact'. Every touch is delicate, countless nuances are allowed to drift in the enchanted air of the isolated domain of the great house. Everyone dresses for dinner, and having to put on white tie every evening to come down to dine with one's wife and cousin is shown for the empty ritual it is, accepted, however, as part of a tradition which cannot be openly questioned. After all, in that long-vanished society, formality was the badge of belonging, and if you did not wear your white tie to private dinners with your own wife at home you were no longer 'one of us'. With his recent memory erased, Bates comes perilously close to experiencing exclusion from polite society because he cannot remember anyone and, through his innocence acquired courtesy of an enemy shell against his head, dares to question what he never dared to examine before. As his psychiatrist Ian Holm says, bringing someone like that back to 'normality' might merely mean bringing him back to unhappiness. Without having read the original novel, I can sense beneath the surface of this story a savage attack on the manners and mores of the privileged elite of the time. Presumably Rebecca West was not the girlfriend of socialist H. G. Wells for nothing, and they would have shared an agenda of attacking the root of privilege. Here this is done with immense but devastating subtlety through what in the end becomes a fable thrown like one of the German bombs against the fortress of the elite, as epitomised by the odious character of the voraciously selfish and spoilt Julie Christie. By contrast, Jackson leads a relatively impoverished life in Wealdstone (a location viciously mocked by Christie), married to a boring man, wrapped up in her baking and housework. Appallingly dressed, Christie calls her 'the dowd'. But Bates loves her madly, and ignores Christie. This film will remain a genuine and enduring classic.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie has been poorly received and badly reviewed. The book by
Rebecca West was written in 1918, soon after WWI, when shell shock and
trauma-induced amnesia were not clichés, as the reviewers call it many
books and movies later. It is difficult to go back in time and live, as
the characters lived, the realities of the time: the war and the horror
of the experience of the first war to use lethal gas, the British class
system the wife thought all-important, the hopeless spinster, and the
lover from the past still seen with the eyes of love being as young and
as beautiful as she was 20 years ago.
Alan Bates as the amnesiac soldier who "will die" if he isn't allowed to see Margaret, the girl of his youthful dreams, builds on the devotion his character showed in "Far From the Madding Crowd". Having seen that performance, it is possible to sense his strong romantic attachment to the girl who didn't live up to the family's and society's expectations. Margaret says, "We quarreled, and as you rowed away, you turned your face away from me." So we know that the breakup was something that he instigated, that it brought him shame, but that he forgot the shame in his memory of his time with Margaret. I haven't seen all his films, but in the ones I've seen, he imparts a strong masculinity, which shines through even in this role as the disabled soldier.
I didn't even recognize Ann-Margaret at first and feel that her performance has been underrated. Not having read the book, I wondered whether the child who died was the result of acting on a borderline incestuous feeling between Jenny and Chris, though Jenny does state that she "is a cousin". The way Kitty keeps Jenny in the nursery in the hair-drying scene, the fact that Kitty says she always dries her hair in that room seems more a way for Kitty to keep the coals of anger hot than the orientation of the room to the sun, or sentiment about a lost child, and the statement she made that she wished Chris hadn't felt it necessary to preserve the room exactly as it was when the child was alive made her seem uncaring toward the memory of the child. Also, Jenny is shown as living in the house in a subservient role, as high society would have done to a fallen member at the time.
Having recently been the recipient of the intense fantasy of a lover (non-sexualin keeping with the mores of the time) from 50 years ago, I couldrelate to Margaret's and her husband's dilemma. I, too, was cast aside because I wasn't good enough for his family, and upon his rediscovery of me via the internet, I was burdened with helping him deal with his still very horrifying Vietnam experiences and a marriage to a woman above his class whom he didn't believe he loved. My husband, like Margaret's was very understanding, but the strain was very real. The lover was finally able to reconcile his real-life situation with his fantasy of loving only me.
I thought that it was a good decision to show very little of the reliving of the war experience that was happening in Chris's mind. I thought of "Mrs. Dalloway" with the WWI soldier who acts out very violent memories and commits suicide versus Chris's joy in his fantasy of Margaret. In contrast, the actiona of the soldier in "Mrs. Dalloway" seems overwrought.
Showing that the psychiatrist understood very little of what was happening to Chris underlines what a major problem the whole group faced. Everyone seems to get their life back, but was it the right choice?
With the advent of the IMDb, this overlooked movie can now find an interested audience. Why? Because users here who do a search on two-time Academy Award winner Glenda Jackson can find 'The Return of The Soldier' among her credits. So can those checking out Oscar winner Julie Christie. Fans of Ann-Margret can give the title a click, as will those looking into the career of the great Alan Bates. Not to mention the added bonus of a movie with supporting heavyweights Ian Holm and Frank Finlay. Any movie with so many notables in it is rewarded by the IMDb, given all the cross-referencing that goes on here. So, why isn't this movie out on DVD? Don't the Producers realize the Internet Movie Database is a marketing gift for such a film? And 'The Return of The Soldier' is definitely a gem waiting to be discovered. Get with it, people.
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