1946 London. One evening, novelist Maurice Bendrix runs into his old friend, mild-mannered government minister Henry Miles, who he has not seen in two years. Maurice met Henry and his wife Sarah Miles in 1939 when they were neighbors off the Common, Maurice using the notion of Henry as research for a character for one of his novels. The reason they have not seen each other in such a long time is that last meeting is when Sarah, without warning, abruptly ended her affair with Maurice, an affair of which Henry had and has no knowledge. This meeting at least brings Maurice back into the Miles' realm and again seeing Sarah. Maurice is as dismayed to hear as Henry is dismayed to tell that he believes Sarah currently is having an affair. Beyond still being in love with her, the deeper reason for Maurice's dismay is not only Sarah having professed her eternal love for him during the time they were together, but her vow that she would never sleep with another man, her and Henry's marriage, ...Written by
Two years after the sudden end of his affair with Sarah, Maurice bumps into her husband, Henry, who confides in him about his wife's possible infidelity. Driven by the same jealousy that plagued him during their affair, Maurice poses as Sarah's husband and hires a private detective to follow her and find out what she's doing. As his investigators probe Sarah's personal life, Maurice remembers back to his affair.
Having seen the 1950's version of this book, I was interested to see a version that didn't have to worry about the heavy censorship of that period. Funnily though, it is not the nudity, passion or sex that adds to this version of the story; rather it is the ability of the film to show the strong feeling and emotion between the characters. The plot is pretty true to the book and follows the same turns that are ultimately quite touching (even if their reliance on honour and promises to god seem out dated today). The film manages to evoke sympathy, pity and dislike for each of the three main characters - each is a victim here and the film allows us to see that and feel for each of them regardless of the rights and wrongs of their respective situations.
It is difficult to describe but the film is very much of the period; it is very reserved and honourable considering the material, but yet it is deeply emotional and involving. The only sticking point is the plot's reliance on Sarah's prayer; as I said, it seems difficult to accept in this age that this would have been held to - ironically the 50's version was more acceptable for some reason; maybe because I saw them having sex in this film, maybe then I found it harder to accept a `sinner's prayer' as it were. Besides this, it still does work well and is quite tragic as a love story - this is not a romantic date movie sort of thing!
The main reason I was able to buy into the heart of the emotion was the performances. Fiennes is so perfectly English in the role; he is restrained yet bursting with emotion. He does a wonderful job of having his character eat away at himself with jealousy without ever seeming pathetic. Conversely Rea does a good job of making his character pathetic but still very much keeping the sympathy of the audience. The fact that I get to see Moore in the buff (again!) is not a boost to this film, however her performance is. She is good in the role (better and freer than the 50's actress) even if I didn't feel she was as good as Rea and Fiennes - maybe because her character is less expressive and, simply, a `good' person: I can only assume Greene was unable to look down on his lover even after the end of the affair.
Overall this film has a few sticking points but it is a wonderful version of Greene's book of the same name. Much was made of the nudity and such, but it is the rawer emotion of this telling that makes it work well. The script puts them on the screen and the cast do well to bring them out as complex as they are in real life.
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