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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A Day in the Lives: Billy Liar (1963)

Billy Bed

Throughout the opening credits of John Schlesinger’s 1963 film Billy Liar, the camera pans along lines of buildings in a northern English town. Although there’s some diversity of styles from shot to shot — apartment blocks, row homes, Tudor cottages — each row in and of itself is strikingly unvaried and repetitive, and the overall effect is of a certain dull monotony. A radio show aimed at housewives provides accompaniment as these images roll past, creating the impression that all of the homes, regardless of their appearances, are united by mundane domesticity. However, within the walls of one of them, a young man named Billy Fisher (Tom Courtenay) is daydreaming about a much more thrilling existence.

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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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