Page 6, 17th April 1981

17th April 1981
Page 6
Page 6, 17th April 1981 — Hardy perennial success

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Organisations: Tony Church, Royal Command
Locations: Cambridge, Urberville


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Hardy perennial success

IT IS A very long time since I devoured Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urhervilles with passionate teenage. enthusiasm. Today, watching Roman Polanski's Tess ("A", Empire), the story seems as old-fashioned as that of any Victorian melodrama.

Tess Durbey field (Nastassia Kinskil, the beautiful daughter of a small tenant-farmer. sets out in her Sunday best to pay a call on a rich relative. She is doing so because the local parson (Tony Church) who makes a hobby of genealogy. has found that the name Durbeyfield is only a corruption of D'Urberville, the noble family who live in the squire's mansion. So Tess's mother (Rosemary Martin) sends her off on a courtesy call to her rich cousin. Alec (Leigh Lawson).

The poor relation is hired to look after Mrs D'Urberville's (Sylvia Coleridge's) hens. But alas Alec is a charming cad. He seduces his cousin and leaves her to languish with their unwanted illegitimate son. Working now as a dairymaid. Tess meets, falls in love with marries Angel Clare (Peter Firth), a parson's son learning to be a farmer: Angel proves. however, to be a bit of a male chauvinist who, while confessing his own past sin, cannot forgive hers. and leaves for Brazil. in turn letting Tess languish without sign of life until he returns too late to find her installed again as Alec's mistress.

It seems incredible today that Hardy made of this sob-story something of a national — or regional "Wessex" epic. But Roman Polanski, with the same clean cut communication that marked the style of his first big Polish success, Knife in the Water and a deal of since-acquired skill and maturity, makes the movie in turn enthralling.

Rebuilding England's green and pleasant West country on the fertile fields of France, with a cast and crew of familiar English names balanced by some unfamiliar French ones. With the beautiful photography of England's Geoffrey Unsworth and France's Ghislain Cloquet reproducing the intimate study of life among the milkmaids and cows with his usual attention to detail, Polanski pilots them all duly to their coda at Stonehenge, a sad, unedifying story on a beautiful background. Cast with as much care as it is edited, Polanski makes the chain of cliches no longer seem so much the whole matter.. as the landscape and the masterly filmmaking. The Royal Command film is a venerable institution. Too often, watching the mediocre programme selected by a cornpromise confrontation of commercial studio interests, I have felt sorry for the royal patrons reduced to a captive audience. On the other hand, athletics bore me, so that a story whose main strand is the contrast of the ambitions which drive two young men, the Jew Abraham (Ben Cross) and the Scottish missionary. Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), to compete to win the 100 metres at the 1924 Paris Olympics, leaves me a cold nonstarter.

On the other hand, again, the vitality and enthusiasm of the direction by Hugh Hudson. a young British director on his first feature film. the lively screenplay by Colin Welland of "Z Cars", and the encouraging openness and normality of the ambience achieved by David Puttnam, probably our most stimulating and encouraging present British producer. (he made among others, Malone. Midnight Express. Stardust and The Duellists). make Chariots of Fire an exhilarating experience in British movies.

Colin Welland's screenplay is also expressive of a new-found spontaneity still firmly based in traditional values. The very unfamiliarity of the young stars enhances their authenticity. Ben Cross plays Harold Abrahams. the young Jewish Cambridge undergraduate, whose athletic pride and ambition are whipped up by the restrained antiSemitism he encounters at Cambridge from the Provost of Trinity (John Gielgud) and the Master of Caius (Lindsay Anderson).

Ian Charleson plays Liddell, the young Scots missionary whose fidelity to his vocation makes him refuse to finish the Games when he discovers the heats are to be run on the Sabbath. (Liddell carried out his Missionary work and died in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.) There's a fine performance too by Ian Holm as the part Italian coach Abrahams hires — to the disapproval of Cambridge amateur tradition.

The picture is as high-spirited as a school sports-day, but with the survival of grown-up men's virtues of honour and patriotism. I have one reservation about the direction, in finding the tricksy use of slow motion overdone. I can't see the point of filming sprinters in slow motion. But on the whole Chariots of Fire is an exhilarating British movie which I hope its royal patrons enjoyed as much as I and most other critics did.

By a coincidence exceeding the hopes of any publicity campaign. The Kidnapping of the President ("X", Odeon, Marble Arch) was shown to the Press on the same day as the news of the attempted assassination of President Reagan. The movie is not a major work. But it is an exciting one and a fairly credible picture of the network of security and terror in which a President must live.

This President (Val Holbrook) is about to visit Canada when mayhem breaks out from a combination of American revolutionaries and LatinAmerican terrorists belonging to a Marxist group known as the Mano Verde in the Argentine. Terrorist Assanti (Miguel Fernandes) posing as a journalist handcuffs himself to the President and displays twenty sticks of dynamite strapped to his body, and the bank truck he has duplicated and wired with explosives. Another complication is his girl companion, Linda (Cindy Girling) whose sister he has murdered in the Argentine.

The rest of the film is a long exercise in suspense fletween the incarcerated President and the threatening explosives. Suspense is intensified by the usual political problem: whether to pay the exorbitant ransom in diamonds, and by more interesting problems of character.

The quality of the film (directed by George Mendeluk) is greatly enhanced by the performances, especially by the impressive, genial presence and performance of Val Holbrook.

Freda Bruce Lockhart

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