The Show Must Go On: The Entertainer (1960)

Archie Sign with Jean

Outside a theater in an English seaside town, an artist’s rendering of a grotesque face, massive in scale and positioned over the words “Archie Rice: The One and Only,” grins down at passersby. Scarcely anybody gives it even a moment’s glance, but one young woman, Jean (Joan Plowright), stops in the middle of the crowded sidewalk to gaze up at it. The expression on her face suggests a certain fondness for this strange figure, with perhaps the slightest touch of ambivalence. This ambivalence grows as she looks at the other promotional materials on display depicting the one and only Archie (Laurence Olivier) — no less grotesque in photographs than in drawings — posed with scantily-clad showgirls and proclaiming him “T.V. & Radio’s Sauciest Comic,” until she’s become downright glum. Obviously, Archie Rice is a public figure, but in private life he happens to be Jean’s father — and yet, different though they are in many ways, it’s not always easy to tell precisely where the public figure ends and the private man begins.

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A Foreign Country: The Go-Between (1971)

Marian Hammock

Upon arriving at Brandham Hall at the start of Joseph Losey’s 1971 film The Go-Between, Leo Colston (Dominic Guard as a child, Michael Redgrave as an adult) finds much to impress and even overwhelm him: the size and grandeur of the house itself, the paintings covering its walls, the shining silver arrayed in perfect neatness on its tables. He’s particularly struck, however, by two living things. The first is Marian Maudsley (Julie Christie), clad in white and half-hidden by a white parasol as she lounges in a hammock; the second is a deadly nightshade growing on the property. “Atropa belladonna,” Leo explains to his friend Marcus (Richard Gibson), Marian’s younger brother. “It’s poisonous. Every part of it is poisonous.” Beauty masking poison — a symbol, it will turn out, not simply of Marian herself, but of Brandham and upper-class English society as a whole.

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Like a Miracle: Whistle Down the Wind (1961)

kittens

Even after the three Bostock children rescue a sack of kittens from drowning and hide them in their barn at the start of the 1961 Bryan Forbes-directed film Whistle Down the Wind, they know the danger is far from over: It was their farmhand, Eddie (Norman Bird), who tried to get rid of the unwanted animals on behalf of their father (Bernard Lee). Charlie (Alan Barnes), the youngest, is less concerned than his sisters, however. Having spoken to a woman (Patricia Heneghan) from the Salvation Army on the way home, he declares that Jesus will look after the kittens. Eldest child Kathy (Hayley Mills, daughter of Mary Hayley Bell, who wrote the novel on which the film was based) expresses skepticism, but Charlie insists that the woman knows “because she lives in his house.” “How can she when he’s dead?” Kathy retorts. Her sister Nan (Diane Holgate) warns her that she’ll “have something terrible happening now” for saying that, and although Kathy scoffs, it’s clear that she’s rather uneasy. Consequently, when she returns to the barn alone that night, she’s terrified to discover a bearded stranger (Alan Bates) there. “Who is it?” she manages to ask. The slightly dazed man says, “Jesus Christ”; she takes it as an answer to her question.

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Not Any Man’s Property: Far from the Madding Crowd (1967)

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The first few minutes of the 1967 film Far from the Madding Crowd, directed by John Schlesinger and based on Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel of the same title, belong entirely to the English landscape — specifically, that of the southwestern part of the country, along the coast. As seen through the lens of cinematographer Nicolas Roeg, the pale brown hills and steely sky and sea create a bleak picture, yet one that has its own austere sort of beauty and, above all, power. When a human figure finally appears, he’s little more than a speck on the horizon with a herd of dingy sheep at his feet. Interpersonal drama will soon move to the forefront, but the natural world remains an ever-present force.

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