But why was the director of The Red Shoes, Colonel Blimp and Black Narcissus - half of the mighty Archers along with Emeric Pressburger - so vilified after Tom: why was he edged out? It might just be that he was out of fashion in increasingly swinging sixties Britain as it gradually substituted psychedelic whimsy for magic realism.
|Susannah York swings|
The films opens with Bogarde’s character, Sebastian, racing past St Peter’s College – the wrong direction – and then round past Teddy Hall and thence though New College towards The Sheldonian. One of his friends is getting an honorary degree – the Prime Minister as he tells new acquaintance Rebecca (Becky) Howard (Susannah York) who had just avoided knocking him down.
|Becky meets Sebastian in Oxford|
Back in London, Sebastian’s office is thrillingly in St Alphage House on the Highwalks – St Alphage Highwalk is now under reconstruction and only one tower remains of this quintessentially sixties development – Bastion House on London Wall – a fine building with stunning views over the city if you’re ever in the area!
|London Wall as it was up until a couple of years ago|
|The decoders at work|
They’re on odd mob but it clearly works.
|Lilli Palmer and Dirk consider the issues|
|Carol's fab Chelsea pad|
|Dirk and Sue|
He travels to Jodrell Bank where Ackerman, an American agent played by a goofy young Donald Sutherland. explains the new code: a seemingly irregular pulsing not unlike the less engaging work of the Aphex Twin. Sebastian takes this back to his all-girl decoders and they step back into the old routine, Elsa re-instated but, Rebecca sadly missing.
Spoilers…. Work remains slow and Sebastian goes to – Richmond? – to find Rebecca. He makes his entrance to be greeted by shock then anger… a baby appears – it’s his although there’s work to be done. He grabs a rattle absent-mindedly and shakes it in time to the pulsing message – Rebecca looks concerned as his face assumes a familiar pattern of focused calculation… They’re back but he has one last job to finish.
Dusty verdict: Sebastian is uneven but filled with period whimsy mixed with a harder edge as you’d expect from a Powell film. It doesn’t compare with his best but has an excellent cast including the ill-fated Janet Munro and the incandescent Susannah York. Dirk was 46 at the time of filming but still carries off the mature leading man, confused by the people around him even as he cracks the most complex of codes.
Sebastian doesn't seem to be available on official DVD but DVD-Rs seem to be available on the grey market... there's a decent copy on YouTube – it’s worth it for the glimpses of Sixties and for Janet, Susannah and Dirk.