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David Hugh Jones
Its Cheap Sunday Costume Drama Look Undermines An Otherwise Excellent, Low-Key, Pinter-Scripted Spy Thriller From An Interesting And Original Feminine Perspective
The Heat Of The Day is based on the novel by Elizabeth Bowen, set during a sweltering, stifling summer in London as World War II rages on. However, from the first scene, when Michael Gambon's enigmatic Harrison approaches Patricia Hodge's bemused Stella with an air of calculated menace, this TV film adaptation unmistakably bears the mark of Harold Pinter with its sense of growing, but suppressed, unease.
An important aspect of Pinter's film work, mirroring his work for theatre, is obsessed with the balance of power between people in relationships, particularly in inter-class relationships. Moreover, this is an understated balance of power, as communication becomes more concerned with muddying the water, thus obscuring the real situation.
In The Heat Of The Day, the common-looking, hefty Harrison quickly establishes an unlikely and unconventional relationship with the beautiful and well born Stella, a relationship with a balance of power weighed favourably towards him. This is because Harrison tells her that her high-powered lover, Robert, played by Michael York, is a spy and that he is the only one who can keep him from infamy and jail. It is clear what Harrison wants in return, but is he actually who he says he is? How does she find out while needing to stay discreet, in case Harrison is genuine and Robert really is a spy?
This is one of Pinter's better screenplays and the top-notch cast is on form. The Heat Of The Day is a low-key, subtle, contained, high-quality psychological thriller from an interesting and original feminine perspective. The fact that it was made for Independent British Television may be its problem. The film seems to have been made on a far too low budget and looks, therefore, stagy and old-fashioned, and could easily be dismissed as 1980's Sunday afternoon costume drama if it didn't have such an unquestionably subtle script and flair in its acting.
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