Saturday 30 May 2015

Jersey mystery… Neither the Sea Nor the Sand (1972)

This strangely affecting film is an ode to enduring love which just happens to have been based on a book by the TV newsreader Gordon Honeycombe. It is based on Jersey, an island I know reasonably well, and the setting alone guarantees an atmosphere of dislocation: an isolated lighthouse on the wind-battered North side of the island and the unpredictable tides off Five Mile Beach provide an uncompromising backdrop to this curious love story.

Honeycombe wrote the screenplay but eventually fell out with the film’s producers and as I haven’t read his original story I can’t work out why. Any adaptation takes on a life of its own and it can’t be easy being the author especially when you know a few tricks of the visual trade.

Michael Petrovitch and Susan Hampshire
Susan Hampshire stars, apparently by her own insistence, and shows what a fine dramatic actress she is – a world away from the upper class roles she has sometimes been associated with. She’s highly watchable throughout and plays to the supernatural McGuffin with conviction: she has to as the whole story rests on it.

Her Anna Robinson is a woman whose relationship has just broken up and who has come to Jersey to think out her future direction. During one of her sad solo walks she encounters a tallish dark handsome stranger near Corbiere Lighthouse - Hugh Dabernon (Michael Petrovitch). He tells her of the dangers of the tides that rips over the small causeway linking the lighthouse to the shore and they walk back to the shore together.

They couple agree to meet again and start to discover each other, walking the streets of St Helier and watching movies: comparing notes on their lives, Eventually they go back to his place encounter his even odder older brother George (Frank Finlay) who doesn’t like the idea of any fancy woman attracting his brother or something like that. The two are steeped in Jersey mystery… being one of the oldest families on the island with a brass rubbing of a mediaeval knight bearing an uncanny resemblance to Hugh…

Brother George leads the dinner discussion
Anna and Hugh grow closer and a romance begins with some obligatory period nudity that I suspect was not in Miss Hampshire’s contract. The couple head off to Scotland to stay at the well-appointed Dabernon home-from-home yet tragedy strikes as they take a walk on the beach: Anna turns round to find Hugh face down on the ground, unnaturally still. In a panic she flees to the house and gets the housekeepers to call for help.

The doctor duly arrives and pronounces Hugh dead leaving Anna devastated… She returns to the old house and cannot sleep; wandering around the house in the dead of night, hearing noises and despairing at the loss of this chance of love when she had least expected it.

This never happened in my movies with Cliff...
She sees a figure moving outside, getting closer to the house… seemingly waiting for something or someone. She opens the door to find Hugh miraculously re-animated and apparently alive only he’s not exactly saying much just staring.

She returns to Jersey with Hugh in tow and goes to his house. Brother George is not impressed by any aspect of recent development and concludes quickly that his brother, much though he would like him otherwise, is dead. Somehow he has been kept alive by Anna’s desperate love and George tells her she must let go.

But Anna cannot think beyond her returned love and the half-dead Hugh runs his brother off the road sending him to his doom. Now it is just the two of them left with Hugh’s increasingly cold flesh pushing their spirits slowly apart.

A friendly local lad Collie (Michael Craze, who viewers might remember as assistant to both William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton), takes an interest in Anna and tries to find out if she is alright but she tries to push him away.

Michael Craze second from the right
As Hugh becomes more distant, Anna must decide what to do with her love: can she really let it go or is there a way she can push through into eternity..?

Dusty verdict: Directed by Fred Burnley, Neither the Sea Nor the Sand is an efficient chiller which raises questions about the nature of grief whilst also holding out for love. Should Anna simply move on or are some relationships binding for all time: has she even a choice in the matter?

The film retains an eerie quality and the atmosphere lingers perhaps due to the eternally-close proximity of Love and Death…

Michael Petrovitch and Frank Findley make for excellent siblings, the latter assuming the role of repressed “Parent” to his much younger brother’s determined individualism. How this connects with later events is open to debate, maybe their land-anchored heritage plays a role in Hugh’s transformation? Or maybe it’s just the love of a very good woman.

Susan Hampshire
Susan Hampshire is excellent as the vulnerable city-soul who finds herself in the cold isolation of the Jersey shore, with her delicate confusion becoming replaced by the vice-like grip of her love for Hugh and the realisation that she cannot live without him…

Neither the Sea Nor the Sand is available on Odeon Entertainment either direct (DVD or download) or from Amazon.

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