The thorny tale of a collision between a romantic triangle and England’s merciless class system circa the year 1900, The Go-Between is defined by the contributions of Harold Pinter, who adapted the story from a novel by L.P. Hartley. The illustrious playwright known for cryptically menacing works like Betrayal, Pinter also boasts a celebrated screenwriting career mostly comprising gloomy adaptations, whether of his own work or esteemed books. The Go-Between was the third and final literary adaptation he made with Brit filmmaker Joseph Losey, and like its predecessors the film is distinguished by deceptively polite dialogue, methodical storytelling, and painfully repressed emotion. The sum effect is not for all tastes (Pinter’s monastically restrained style generally tests my patience, and his work on this film is no exception), but there’s no denying that The Go-Between is a film of rare sophistication. The narrative concerns a working-class teen named Leo, who spends a summer at a lavish estate and becomes embroiled in adults’ romantic intrigue. Wealthy Marion (Julie Christie) is engaged to another member of the ruling class, but she lusts after a local farmer, Ted (Alan Bates). Marion charms Leo into carrying notes through which she and Ted arrange trysts, and the discovery of the illicit relationship damages everyone involved—including Leo, who is so anguished by his complicated feelings toward the beautiful Marion that he makes a bad situation much worse. The central narrative is powerful, but it’s surrounded, intentionally, with assorted emotional subplots that contribute to the film’s statement about the perniciousness of arbitrary divisions between people. As a result, the pacing seems glacial at times and the themes are excruciatingly subtle, even though key performances hit the right notes. Dominic Guard is passably petulant as young Leo, while Christie crisply personifies an insufferably self-indulgent brat, and Bates gives a muscular turn as a simple man doomed by unfortunate attraction. As aristocrats who watch the drama unfold, Edward Fox, Michael Gough, and Oscar nominee Margaret Leighton surround the leading players with chilly elegance masking vile snobbery. Amorous and vicious but still challengingly rarified, The Go-Between is a prime example of Christie’s icy allure.
The Go-Between: GROOVY