ⓘ The Go-Between (1971 film)


ⓘ The Go-Between (1971 film)

The Go-Between is a 1971 British romantic drama film directed by Joseph Losey. Its screenplay, by Harold Pinter, is an adaptation of the 1953 novel The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley. The film stars Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Margaret Leighton, Michael Redgrave and Dominic Guard. It won the Grand Prix at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival.


1. Plot

The story follows a young boy named Leo Colston Dominic Guard, who in the year 1900 is a guest of his wealthy school friend, Marcus Maudsley Richard Gibson, to spend the summer holidays at his familys Norfolk country house. While there, Marcus is taken sick and quarantined with the measles. Left to entertain himself, Leo befriends Marcuss beautiful elder sister Marian Maudsley Julie Christie, and finds himself a messenger, carrying messages between her and a tenant farmer neighbour, Ted Burgess Alan Bates, with whom she is engaging in a secret illicit affair.

Her parents, however want her to marry Hugh, Viscount Trimingham Edward Fox, the estate owner. A heatwave leading to a thunderstorm coincides with Leos birthday party and the films climax, when Marians mother and Leo, searching for Marian, find her making love with Burgess in a farm building. This event has a long-lasting impact on Leo after Burgess shoots himself dead in his farmhouse kitchen.

More than fifty years later, Marian, now the Dowager Lady Trimingham, sends for Leo Michael Redgrave, wanting him to speak to her grandson to assure him that she had truly loved Burgess. She asks Leo whether her grandson reminds him of anyone, and he replies "Yes. Ted Burgess".


2.1. Production Development

The rights to the novel had been in the hands of many producers, including Anthony Asquith. Then Sir Alexander Korda purchased it in 1956. He originally envisaged Alec Guinness and Margaret Leighton in the leads and employed Nancy Mitford to write a script. L.P. Hartley later claimed Korda had no real intention to make a film of the book - he kept the rights hoping to re-sell them at a profit. Hartley says "I was so annoyed when I heard of this that I put a curse on him and he died, almost the next morning."

Joseph Losey was interested in filming the novel. He tried to get financing for a version in 1963 after The Servant and says Pinter wrote "two thirds of a script". Losey was unable to get finance then or again in 1968.

"The company had cold feet about the story," said Losey. "It was too tame for the pornographic age. As one man put it, who would be interested in a bit of Edwardian nostalgia? Thats idiotic. It is certainly not a romantic or sentimental piece. It has a surface and a coating of romantic melodrama, but it has a bitter core."

Losey said he was attracted to the novel because it was about "the terrible sense of shortness of any human life, the sense of totality of life."

Pinters screenplay for the film was his final collaboration with Losey, following The Servant 1963 and Accident 1967. It is largely faithful to the novel, although it alludes to the novels opening events in dialogue, in which Leo is admired by other boys at his school as they believe he used black magic to punish two bullies, and also moves events described in the novels epilogue into the central narrative.

Losey says he was glad he and Pinter did not make the film until after Accident because that film encouraged them to play around with time in storytelling.


2.2. Production Finance

Eventually John Heyman managed to get financing from EMI Films, where Bryan Forbes agreed to pay £75.000 for the script.

Because of the relatively steep budget, EMI had to seek co-production financing from MGM. Losey budgeted the film for $2.4 million but had to make it for $1.2 million; he did this by cutting the shooting schedule by a month and working for a percentage of the profits instead of a fee.

In July 1970 MGM-EMI announced they would make the film as part of four co-productions, the others being Get Carter, The Boyfriend and The Last Run directed by John Boorman. Of these only the last was not made.


2.3. Production Shooting

Filming started in August 1970. The film was shot at Melton Constable Hall, Heydon and Norwich in Norfolk. Filming wound up in November.

Pinter was on set during filming. Losey said the making of the film was one of the most happy in his career.


2.4. Production Music

Richard Rodney Bennett was originally announced as the composer. However Michel Legrand ended up doing the soundtrack for the film. The main theme was later used as the title music for the French "true crime" documentary series Faites entrer laccuse in French Wikipedia. The love theme "I Still See You" written by Legrand with lyrics by Hal Sharper was performed by Scott Walker and released as a single in late 1971.


3. Release

The film was first shown in May 1971 at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prix International du Festival. A few days before, James Aubrey, head of MGM, had sold his interest in it to Columbia Pictures, because he disliked the final film and regarded it a flop.

The film was released in the UK on 24 September 1971, opening at ABC1 on Shaftesbury Avenue in London. A month later, on 29 October, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother arrived at the ABC Cinema on Prince of Wales Road in Norwich to attend the local premiere, thus giving Norwich its first ever Royal Premiere.

EMI sold this and Tales of Beatrix Potter to China for release at $16.000 each. They were the first western films to be released in China for two decades.

The inaugural screening of a brand new restoration of the film released by StudioCanal UK took place at Cinema City, Norwich, on 11 September 2019.


3.1. Release Box office

By August 1971 Nat Cohen stated the film had already been "contracted" for a million dollars. The film was one of the most popular movies of 1972 at the British box office. By September 1972 James Aubrey of MGM said the film lost Columbia $200.000 and he insisted that selling the film had been the right move. In 1973 Losey said the film was still not in profit.

According to a biography of Losey, after eighteen months of release the net takings in the UK were £232.249. At 1 July 1972 Columbias territories had earned $2.198.382 including $1.581.972 in the US and Canada. Ten years after its premiere the film had earned £290.888 from UK cinemas and TV, £204.566 from overseas sales excluding the US, £96.599 from the British Film Fund, and Columbias gross receipts in the US, Canada and France were £1.375.300. Loseys personal percentage of films box office was £39.355. So the film was, in the end, quite profitable.


3.2. Release Critical reception

An enthusiastic John Russell Taylor wrote in The Times that, "Up to now, Accident was without argument Loseys best film; now in The Go-Between it has a serious contender for the title. And everything is achieved by apparently doing the absolute minimum." Charles Champlin in the Los Angeles Times wrote after the US premiere in November 1971 that The Go-Between was one of the best films of the previous six years. Andrew Sarris in the Village Voice labelled it the best film of the year. Writing in 1985, Joanne Klein saw the filmscript "as a major stylistic and technical advance in Pinter’s work for the screen", and Foster Hirsch described it as" one of the world’s great films” in 1980. In 2009, Emanuel Levy called the film "Loseys Masterpiece".


3.3. Release Accolades

For many involved it was praised as the peak of their careers. Leighton earned her only Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the film. In 1999, it was included on the British Film Institutes list of its 100 best British films.