Prior to typing this small review; I took a moment to read the 11 other IMDb user-comments for the movie. They are all quite spot-on in their assessments. I see little that I can add to them for the purpose of simply encouraging newcomers to seek out this McQueen episode. The film is exactly what they say; and if you are fascinated by the story of how the production came into being--as I am--you will be satisfied with the end-product.
One place I veer from those reviews is in the labeling of the performances (McQueen's or Bibi Andersson's) as "Oscar deserving". The performances in this film are--I was relieved to see--universally very solid; and the actors more than stand up to the rare, theatrical material and this unusual stage/cinema experiment. But that's as far as I will go.
There are many reasons to seek out this small, quiet movie; many reasons to savor every bit of it as it unfolds; and at the end of it all, there are quite a few reasons to enjoy and value the picture. Fans of Ibsen; fans of theater itself; fans of good acting; clever period set design; those interested in political theory; and enthusiasts of 1970s movies in general, will all be pleased by this movie. It is good to know that this type of film was capable of being undertaken in 1978.
Of course, it is not a perfect outing. There is some awkwardness. There is some ineffectuality. Its a slow picture in places. And it is not a film that would have shaken the movie industry--or the world--had the studio allowed it to circulate.
I'll just tick off some personal pro's and con's:
Disliked: the camera spends far too much time on a couple of minor characters--the newspapermen (and their ethical shallowness); the romance between the newspaperman and the daughter is not developed (or later rescinded); and the ending of the movie is perplexing--this is probably the most serious flaw. The film just sort of "trails off". Additionally, the movie is almost **stolen** by a supporting character of no significance - the sea captain!
Liked: the 'family dinner' scene; the superb acting of Charles Durning; the sets and costumes; the lighting and feeling for 'small town drama'; the quality of the adaptation in general (speeches and mannerisms were modern enough to not cause any "anachronism'); the sweet title and credits montage (daguerreotype style); the wonderful supporting players; and Steve McQueen, of course.
Saving the best for last. Steve McQueen. I am so glad to be able to see him in this performance. It is just as vital to see him in this, as it is to see him in 'Papillon', 'The Reivers' and 'Thomas Crowne'. I watched with pleasure, his characterization. Because this film, as those others are, films he deliberately sought out to challenge himself; films via which he wished to broaden himself and express himself as an actor and a man. That is to say, expressing his values by his choice of roles.
It was a treat to see all the familiar McQueen mannerisms shine through--to see his mind at work in the exercise of those mannerisms for each scene; and to observe the respect he pays to his character by keeping his powers under restraint. He discards all traces of the 'movie-star' McQueen here. He is slow and careful; with fine and detailed gesture and expression. Its a respectful performance; he acknowledges the duty he owes to the noble material.
Remember that--this being entirely his production--his idea to even embark into these waters--he could have done anything he wanted. But he takes the high road. He worked for scale pay and he works in harness, like any other actor who cares about doing a good job first and foremost. Though his speeches are hoarse and controlled; though his hands shake and his shoulders are stooped--he is as powerful here in his meek, frail doctor's guise as anywhere else in his career; riding a motorcycle or what-have-you. To see him in the public meeting--after having been shouted down by his community--choosing to stride right through them with family in tow, making his way past their despising glares, is a true 'McQueen moment' and should not be missed by any of his fans.
Its a heroic role; and McQueen had a heroic role in trying to bring this odd, unwelcome project to the big screen. I am mightily proud to have been able to see it.