Saturday 15 November 2014

Play in a day… Secrets (1971)

Director Philip Saville main background had been in television plays and had pushed the technical boundaries by mixing film and video in support of a more flexible camera work within studio space as well as for external shooting.

This explains why Secrets feels  very much like a sauced-up Play for Today with a good deal of the action shot in tight focus on the main players giving an almost claustrophobic feel although there are some key sequences in London in and around Hyde Park… The film has had a limited release and has been noted chiefly for Jacqueline Bisset’s protracted nude scene but there’s far more to the film than this… really!

Jacqueline Bisset
The story takes place over a single, pivotal day in the lives of the Wood family. Allan Wood (Robert Powell) is a struggling actor who, realising his time is up, has decided on a career change and a move into the bold new world of computer programming. His relationship with his wife Jennifer (Bisset) is under extreme pressure: they married young with their daughter Judy (Tarka Kings) evidence of the reason why…

Under pressure
Pushing 30 with money worries and no career of her own, she makes a dispiriting trip to the laundrette with Judy a girl of about ten who has the look of someone used to caring for themselves… So it proves as Jennifer leaves her to her own devices and goes off for a walk to clear her head.

She heads towards Hyde Park and is spotted by a bearded man driving a Rolls Royce. He can’t take his eyes off this woman and Saville’s camera cleverly follows the car’s twists and turns as its driver tries to keep track of her movements.

Per Oscarsson and Jacqueline Bisset
Eventually he pulls up and walks over to talk… he is Raoul Kramer (Per Oscarsson) a Swedish textile millionaire and, after failing to win Jennifer over with a request for directions ot Stone Henge he hands her his card asking for her to call him…

By the time he has got back to his Rolls his car phone is ringing (yes even in 1970) and it’s Jennifer. He goes back to meet her and the couple end up going back to his house…

Meanwhile young Judy has started helping a young man Raymond (Thomas Ellice as Martin C. Thurley) wash his clothes at the laundrette – she travels with him back to the garden he is due to tend – his sister’s.

Robert Powell
Allan is having adventures of his own after completing the verbal interview he is now sitting the written paper under the watchful eye of pretty personnel officer Beatrice (Shirley Knight). He struggles with the questions, obviously intelligent but short on focus. Beatrice explains that mostly they are looking for conformists but that there is always room for more maverick mind sets…

Shirley Knight
And so the day goes as Jenny finds out that Raoul’s fascination is based on her resemblance to his late wife who died of cancer before the birth of their second child. He is still clearly heartbroken and has thrown himself into business. Raoul is continually interrupted by important business phone calls and as she explores his plush house and his sad past, Jenny finds his wife’s clothes still were she left them…

The empty life of a millionaire...
Judy is getting on with gardening with Raymond a diffident young man who seems harmless enough. His sister is a painter and he is at pains to make sure that the youngster doesn’t trespass into her workshop. Whilst his back is turned Judy sneaks in and hides, he finds her and she clings onto him as children do… confused by the contact he tries to kiss her, recoiling in horror when he realises what he’s done. He offers Judy a plant if she will keep their secret trying to make light but also to bind her to silence through apparent kindness.

Raymond is shocked with himself
This is a shocking sequence and I’m not sure what it means in the context of the girl’s parents: is it their fault she’s not better prepared and specifically, Jenny should have been on duty but she’s off finding herself and someone else…

Allan goes for a drink with Beatrice and ends up back at the nervous young woman’s flat providing her with neck massage to help calm her down. There’s an attraction between them even as they discuss fidelity and the state of his marriage.

Jacqueline Bisset
Meanwhile out of pity and attraction, Jenny makes herself up as Raoul’s wife and, once he has discovered this impossible doppelganger in his bedroom the two make “mad passionate love” in that early seventies way… I can see why Ms Bisset may frown on this aspect of the film as it’s a fairly lengthy and lingering event. It does perhaps show the depth of his loss and her compassion.

Consciously coupled
Allan and Beatrice have also moved things on  but I’m not sure they consummate their relationship – Allan offers her comfort and, as with Raoul and Jenny, you get the feeling that the “givers” have awoken something in themselves. This is how they can help each other – they have love left over in the course of their routines.

The family return home with gifts which they pass on to each other: Allan with Beatrice’s silver pill box (she may need them less, she hopes…), Jenny with a roll of finest cloth (something Raoul had been saving for his wife) and Judy with the plant.

Happy families?
All seems well as Allan reads the bedtime story although Judy turns her mouth away when he pecks her goodnight… something now makes her wary of male attention: is this a lesson learned, an awakening or just confusion she’ll suppress for ever?

Allan and Jenny go to bed and realise their love for each other is renewed… have they regained their focus after their altruistic sexual adventures and like their daughter learned the distinction between love and physical desire. I think Jenny should spend more time with Judy.

Dusty Verdict: Saville went on to great success on screens both small and large with his CV including The Boys from the Black Stuff and The Life and Loves of a She-Devil along with many films in a career stretching from the 1950s to 2000s. This film deserves more attention than it has had or at least credit where its due for its unusual structure and themes.

It's not available on DVD so guess I'll have to stick with my old VHS...

1 comment:

  1. The fact that Judy, a ten year old girl is left alone in a central London Launderette seems remarkable today but to be picked up by a strange man, taken away and forcibly kissed is really shocking but treated as less so in the film. Its fascinating in retrospect to know that Tarka Kings went on to study at the RCA, became a successful artist and is married to Lord Ogilvy after her father deserted the family and her mother jumped from a building when Tarka was in her final year at RCA, she was also the niece of Aldous Huxley