This refreshing British romance was adapted by the venerable Peter Shaffer from his own play (originally titled The Private Ear and the Public Eye), and directed by the enduring Carol Reed, of The Third Man fame. Featuring a trio of highly capable actors ripping through reams of sophisticated dialogue, this is a tasteful production from top to bottom, which makes it all the more interesting that the story is so peculiar. Michael Jayston (star of 1971’s Nicholas and Alexandra) plays an uptight London accountant named Charles, and Mia Farrow plays his wife, a freethinking young American named Belinda. Although Belinda pulled Charles from his shell during their courtship, he has retreated into stuffy traditionalism, so they’re drifting from each other. Fearful that she’s become unfaithful, Charles hires a detective agency to follow Belinda, and an unconventional investigator named Julian Christoforou gets the assignment.
Played by one-named Israeli star Topol with the same vivaciousness he brought to his famous stage and screen role in Fiddler on the Roof, Julian is a voluptuary in love with love. Most of the story comprises one long dialogue scene between Charles and Julian, during which Charles describes the history of his relationship with Belinda and during which Julian explains the details of his surveillance; these incidents are depicted through extensive flashbacks. In the story’s main twist, Charles learns that Belinda remained faithful to him—until she noticed this peculiar Greek fellow shadowing her day after day. Turns out Belinda and Julia have enjoyed a platonic and wordless courtship, attending cultural events each afternoon. Charles is infuriated by this discovery, so the remainder of the movie explores how the triangle gets resolved.
Fanciful and stylized, Shaffer’s story is more of a romantic fable than a realistic narrative, and the magical style is elevated by John Barry’s haunting music, which includes the frequently repeated song “Follow, Follow.” Shaffer’s dialogue is as resplendent as usual, though he occasionally lapses into self-indulgent loftiness, and the character work is sharp. Topol easily steals the movie, while Jayston invests his role with repressed humanity, and Farrow endeavors to come across as more than just a flighty hippie. The movie also benefits from the extensive use of evocative London locations, and the climax is genuinely surprising.
The Public Eye: GROOVY