Rather undiplomatic British diplomat Harrington Brande (Sir Michael Hordern) takes up his new post in Spain accompanied by his son Nicholas (Jon Whiteley). The posting is something of a ...
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Rather undiplomatic British diplomat Harrington Brande (Sir Michael Hordern) takes up his new post in Spain accompanied by his son Nicholas (Jon Whiteley). The posting is something of a disappointment to Harrington, who was hoping for a promotion. That his wife had left him seems to have affected his career. Nicholas sees it all as something of an adventure, and soon becomes fast friends with the new gardener, José (Sir Dirk Bogarde). The apparently "delicate" Nicholas becomes attached to José, and Harrington's jealousy leads him to bar Nicholas from even speaking to José. As tensions mount, another servant frames José for theft, forcing everyone to review the situation.Written by
A minor English diplomat is posted to Catalunya in the aftermath of his collapsed marriage. He takes his young boy with him, with visions of nurturing the father-son bond. Unfortunately, Brande is a 'stuffed shirt', a cold prig of a man who fails to comprehend his son's needs. He orders the gardens of the residence to be reduced to bland English regularity, instead of leaving them as a wild, overgrown delight for a child's imagination.
Jose is jobless and penniless, but the local pelota champion is a prince among men - young, handsome, charismatic and kind. When Jose is taken on as the gardener, he begins to supplant Brande in Nico's affections.
A decision was obviously taken, pre-production, to dispense with Spanish accents. There is some sense in this, because it can seriously detract from the film's purpose if the actors are constantly struggling to sustain funny voices, but it does produce an odd result. Dirk Bogarde is 'darkened up' for the part of Jose and looks great, but his smooth middle-class English delivery seems incongruous in the mouth of a Catalan labourer. When Nico visits Jose's home, every generation of the extended family speaks flawless English. That would be amazing in the year 2000: how likely was it in 1956?
Brande (played beautifully by Michael Hordern as a spiritual cripple) embarks on a campaign of emotional blackmail towards Nico and a policy of bullying Jose. He is incapable of seeing that this approach is doomed to failure, or that the subtly obsequious Garcia (Cyril Cusack) is the Iago to his own Othello. The ungracious refusal of Jose's fish marks the first breach of trust between father and son, but character is fate, and Brande is set on a course from which he cannot extricate himself. The confrontation between Brande and Nico on the staircase is one of the best things in the film. Young Jon Whiteley, in the part of Nico, gives an outstanding performance.
Bogarde plays the accusation scene with spot-on coolness, but would the theft of a watch, even at Franco's apogee, even if it involved a foreign diplomat, merit custody, handcuffs and an armed Civil Guard escort? Would someone accused of such a minor offence really prefer to take to the hills as a brigand?
Brande's Lear-like volte face in the rain-sodden mill is an affecting scene, and though the whole thing is rather far-fetched, it works as an entertaining fable.
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