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"Women Are an Occupied Country": 'The Romantic Englishwoman'

Coincidence and architecture


The Romantic Englishwoman

Director: Joseph Losey
Cast: Glenda Jackson, Michael Caine, Helmut Berger
Distributor: Kino
Rated: R
Year: 1981
USDVD release date: 2011-6-21

"Life is filled with wonderful and extraordinary coincidences. Most fiction rings false because nobodies think that a coincidence is a failure of art." So says a smooth German gigolo (Helmut Berger) who's inveigled his way into the home of an English novelist (Michael Caine) by claiming to be a fan. That's a self-conscious line if ever there was one, clearly to set us up for what is to come.

Since the writer is trying to construct a screenplay that's a thriller and a study of an unfulfilled woman, using his own wife (Glenda Jackson) and this shady stranger as his characters, and since he's already begun imagining what might have happened between them on his wife's impulsive trip to Baden Baden, we know that Joseph Losey's The Romantic Englishwoman exists somewhere in metafictional territory. In this way it foreshadows the similarly titled The French Lieutenant's Woman a few years later (script by Harold Pinter, who'd also worked with Losey). The characters tell interesting lies, sometimes by telling the truth and sometimes conjuring their lies into existence.

Losey, the most architectural of directors, cannot help framing his characters in stairwells, doors, hallways, windows, rooftops and mirrors, and here his most insistent visual motif is the reflection in a window. He smoothly handles the screenplay by Tom Stoppard and Thomas Wiseman, based on the latter's novel, and it's all shot with subdued beauty by Gerry Fisher and scored with dark romanticism by Richard Hartley. Kino's welcome DVD (also in Blu-Ray) has no extras except for some publicity stills.

Losey's body of work is slowly, slowly trickling onto DVD; this is the year's second release after the terrific VCI restoration of The Prowler. Come to think of it, both films, thirty years apart, are about unsavory characters who charm their way into the lives of women who fall for them, and both focus on the hollow yearnings of the well-off wives in their beautiful houses. "Women are an occupied country," says one character, and of course the writer steals it for his script. He knows an archetypal line when he hears it.

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