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The Go-Between
Remind Me

The Go-Between

Based on the acclaimed semi-autobiographical novel by L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between (1970) is a coming-of-age tale with a devastating lesson. It takes place over a few summer weeks in a grand country manor at the turn of the century and focuses on the experiences of a twelve-year-old boy from a respectable but poor family; he becomes entangled in a secret romance played out under the cover of the mores and manners and hypocrisies of an aristocratic family that reverberates over the course of decades.

Dominic Guard made his feature debut as Leo, a sensitive and sincere boy who is not part of this family's world, but merely a tourist in a culture where social standing defines every relationship. Leo is tolerated and at times even doted upon, like a favored pet, perhaps, and he's smitten by Marian, the beautiful older sister who smiles favorably upon him. When he meets Ted Burgess, a nearby tenant farmer, he's drafted into becoming the secret "postman" between the two. It's a mere game for the boy, who is thrilled to be part of this grown-up secret, but a dangerous affair for Marian, who is to be engaged to a genuine aristocrat. Leo isn't judgmental but his innocence and his uncomplicated sense of right and wrong and loyalty tear at his fragile emotional make-up when he becomes aware of what's really going.

Director Joseph Losey wanted to cast unknowns in the lead roles but financing was contingent on stars. The part of Marian, an eighteen-year-old girl, was rewritten for a decidedly more mature Julie Christie, who had time in her schedule for one project before heading back to the U.S. to star in the new film that Warren Beatty was developing with Robert Altman (it would become McCabe and Mrs. Miller [1971]). Though the lovely Christie was considered the poster girl for modern youth and the swinging London culture thanks to her roles in Billy Liar [1963] and Darling [1965], she had more recently starred in Doctor Zhivago [1965] and Far from the Madding Crowd [1967] and was no stranger to period films and literary adaptations. Alan Bates, her co-star from Far from the Madding Crowd, was cast as the tenant farmer Ted Burgess and Edward Fox (who went on to star in Losey's screen version of A Doll's House [1973]) was Hugh, Marian's cuckolded fiancé. Deborah Kerr was originally offered the part of the manor matriarch, Mrs. Maudsley, but turned it down because she felt the role only had a single good scene, toward the end of the film. Margaret Leighton accepted the role and makes the most of the scene by creating a character whose turbulent emotions are kept in check until the eruption at the film's climax.

The Go-Between was shot almost entirely on location in Norfolk, where Losey rented an abandoned manor and had it made over top to bottom for the film. The rest of the locations were found nearby. "Norfolk helped me a lot because Norfolk hasn't changed," said Losey in an interview years later. "Most of the costumes were genuine; we made very few others. And we all lived in the house. They wore the costumes all the time and ate as well as acted in their costumes... once you've got the exact house, accessories, costumes, something then springs to life."

The Go-Between was the third and final collaboration between director Joseph Losey and Harold Pinter, the acclaimed playwright and screenwriter. Years earlier Pinter had started a first draft of it before a rights dispute tied up the project. After the issue was cleared up, Pinter scrapped his first treatment and began from scratch with a whole new approach. "Now what I find most exciting about the subject is the role of time: the annihilation of time by the man's return to the scene of his childhood experience," Pinter explained to critic John Russell Taylor. In some ways it was an extension of Pinter's second collaboration with Losey, Accident [1967], where past and present events were woven into a dense pattern. Hartley's novel tells the story as an extended flashback, the old man remembering that summer fifty years ago. Pinter creates a more complex relationship between past and present, encouraged by Losey. "I am fascinated by the concept of time," he remarked to interviewer Michel Ciment, "and by the power the cinema has to suddenly reveal the meaning of a whole life from the age of 12 to 60...." In fact, the first flash-forwards are a jarring intrusion on the film, unexpected and unexplained until the final act when it becomes clear that these modern scenes and reflective voice-overs are the final chapter of the story.

The Go-Between made its premiere at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Palm D'Or, the highest honor that the festival can bestow and the most prized award in the world of film festivals. Back in Britain, it was nominated for twelve BAFTAs (the British Academy Awards) and took home four, for Pinter's screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Edward Fox) and Actress (Margaret Leighton) and Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles (Dominic Guard). (It lost out on Best Film and Best Director to John Schlesinger's Sunday Bloody Sunday, 1971.) In the U.S. it wasn't quite as successful, but it earned solid reviews (Vincent Canby wrote in the New York Times that is was "one of the loveliest, and one of the most perfectly formed, set and acted film we're likely to see this year...") and an Oscar® nomination for Margaret Leighton. Losey and Pinter never collaborated on another film, yet they remained friends and the film appeared to have a lasting effect on Pinter, whose subsequent plays and scripts show a great interest in memory and fractured timelines.

Producers: John Heyman, Norman Priggen; Denis Johnson (uncredited)
Director: Joseph Losey
Screenplay: Harold Pinter; L.P. Hartley (novel "The Go-Between")
Cinematography: Gerry Fisher
Art Direction: Carmen Dillon
Music: Michel Legrand
Film Editing: Reginald Beck
Cast: Julie Christie (Marian - Lady Trimingham), Alan Bates (Ted Burgess), Margaret Leighton (Mrs. Maudsley), Michael Redgrave (Leo Colston), Dominic Guard ('Leo' Colston), Michael Gough (Mr. Maudsley), Edward Fox (Hugh Trimingham), Richard Gibson (Marcus Maudsley), Simon Hume-Kendall (Denys), Roger Lloyd Pack (Charles), Amaryllis Garnet (Kate).

by Sean Axmaker