Sunday 27 September 2020

The Bucolic Bardot… Dulcima (1971), Carol White

This is a deceptively simple film which features one of Carol White’s finest performances alongside the great John Mills. The interplay between the two is exceptional and showed that the “Battersea Bardot” could not only hold her own with the very best, acting and reacting with the natural emoting seen in her Loach films, but also that she could place herself in different contexts. This is not the kitchen sink of the city but the barn door of Gloucestershire countryside and she fits right in, hair a natural brown, pitch perfect accent and freckles revealed in her un-made-up face.

 Based on a novella from HE Bates – author of The Darling Buds of May, The Triple Echo and Love for Lydia – the story is a typical rural affair, transposed from his usual stamping ground of Northamptonshire to Gloucestershire, with filming taking place around Minchinhampton and Tetbury.  

Fresh from his best supporting Oscar for Ryan’s Daughter (1970), the 62-year old Mills looks fit as a fiddle as Farmer Parker, devoid of rustic charm and a penny-pinching drunk given to cheating his competition of fair prices at the market and stashing his cash under carpets, in biscuit tins and under his hat. He’s a selfish old get who starts the film after a long lunchtime session by driving his Land Rover all too close to Dulcima Gaskain (Carol) as she pushes her baby brother in a pram. He ends up crashing into his chicken coop and Dulcima rushes to help, as he falls out onto the mood in a stupor.

Sir John

Dulcima “Dulce” Gaskain is the eldest of countless siblings and is a drudge for her parents, driven especially hard by her father (Bernard Lee), who expects her to look after him at the expense of her own happiness. After a hard day’s mopping, shopping and cooking, she lies in bed reading of a better life, looking dreamily at the latest fashions and alighting with a smile on an advert showing a handsome young man advertising the knitwear brand Albert.

Seeing Parker’s chaotic existence, she sees an opportunity to make some money by helping to clean his house and generally making herself useful. At first, he doesn’t quite see it, especially when sitting room is transformed as Dulce clears his clutter and washes his threadbare curtains but a hot meal soon persuades him that perhaps he can take advantage of this young woman.

Both of them have ulterior motives and when Dulce accompanies Parker to the cattle market, we see how the wily old sod deliberately takes out a competing farmer by saying he’ll buy his cows so that he can get a better price for his own cattle. He doesn’t follow through with his offer and perhaps this gives Dulce the signal that he deserves a little of his own medicine.

Dulce distracts

Dulce then deploys a different approach by driving Parker to distraction with a few buttons lowered on her top and some earthy leaning and bending as she cleans the floors. If he was happy with her food and cleaning, he’s delighted to see more of her and all the while Dulce keeps a tally of how much he owes her. Getting actually paid the old man requires a greater level of commitment though and Dulce finally gets what she wants by giving him what he’s obviously not had for some time… poor fellow is so distracted he even gives her more than she asked for although she later tells him he overpaid her; it’s a canny game between the two.

All the while Dulce has been warding Parker off with talk of her jealous boyfriend, Albert – inspired by the advert – but she gets a start when one day the man from the advert turns – as the Forest Warden from the neighbouring estate (Stuart Wilson). From this point on she keeps on bumping into the younger man and Parker, who keeps on seeing him from a distance, becomes increasingly uncertain. 

Love is blind though and Dulce moves in to be rewarded with a higher salary and a TV set. The point has been reached were the balance in the couple’s strange relationship has been tipped in Dulce’s favour and when she gets dolled up and flirts with “Albert” on the bus, she arranges a date with him. It’s quite the transformation for White as the “dolly bird” of the sixties emerges in full bloom and it’s clear Parker is out of his depth and age group.

Carol White and Stuart Wilson

Now this amiable tale changes tone as there’s nowhere for Albert’s love to go as Dulce becomes increasingly attached to Albert and yet the resolution is not going to be a clear one: will Dulce take responsibility for where she has led the old man, will he realise that his pursuit of her is hopeless?

Dusty Verdict: Frank Nesbitt directs with a lightness of touch that frees the two main players to interact in funny and convincing ways. White’s Dulcima does not come across as cynically as she might and there’s a genuine win-win for both Dulce and Parker until life intervenes.

Mills is as good as you expect with some delightful expressiveness and he’s truly convincing as the dirty old farmer from the days when baths were less frequent and the four-wheel drives were often battered and purely functional. White responds so well and is perfectly at home in the country showing the comic touch to make light of Dulce’s duplicity as well as the dramatic flair we all know she has.

Dulcima is available on Blu-ray now so there’s no excuseto miss this one.

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