Adapted from a short story by H.E. Bates, offbeat WWII drama The Triple Echo would be easier to swallow had it been extrapolated from real events, because the central premise is as far-fetched as the relationships that drive the storyline. Set in the English countryside, the picture concerns Alice (Glenda Jackson), the lonely wife of a soldier being held prisoner overseas by the Japanese. One day, a young solider named Barton (Brian Deacon) wanders onto her remote farm, so she offers him food and lodging. He’s a deserter. Over the course of several weeks together, they fall in love, but Alice worries that neighbors might discover Barton’s presence and shatter their romantic idyll. She contrives the peculiar idea of disguising Barton as her sister, “Jill,” by way of cross-dressing. This works until yet another soldier wanders onto the farm. Arriving astride a tank, he’s a bearish sergeant played by Oliver Reed. (The character never gets a proper name.) Improbably, the sergeant becomes obsessed with “Jill,” and even more improbably, “Jill” accepts an invitation to a military party even though it’s plain the sergeant expects more from “her” than a dance. All spongy narrative contrivances and inorganic motivations, he story wends its way toward a strange type of romantic tragedy, with the gloomy pastures of the hilly countryside serving as some sort of visual metaphor representing loneliness.
As directed by Michael Apted, whose work is always competent, The Triple Echo moves along as well as it can, given the episodic and incredible storyline. One feels the strain of screenwriter Robin Chapman stretching Bates’ vignette to feature length, and what might have seemed believable on the page is less so onscreen. Jackson attacks behavior and dialogue with her usual consummate skill, but she’s far too chilly to provide the level of emotion necessary for putting the illusion of The Triple Echo across. Likewise, Deacon is a cipher at best and a simpering twit at worst, because his performance gets more and more unsteady as the stakes of the narrative rise. Reed, as was sometimes his wont, barrels through the picture with more energy than nuance, so while he’s credible as an overbearing monster, he steamrolls past the central problem of making viewers believe the sergeant can’t see that “Jill” is a man. Other shortcomings include pedestrian camerawork and some truly atrocious music during upbeat passages—overwrought and twee was not the way to go for scoring what is essentially a tragic chamber piece.
The Triple Echo: FUNKY