Intimate Relations (1996)

“It’s not the sort of thing nice people talk about.”

In Intimate Relations, when middle-aged Marjorie Beasley (Julie Walters) decides to advertise for a lodger, her husband Stanley (Matthew Walker) is opposed to the idea, but as usual, he’s overruled, and the indomitable Marjorie gets her way. A troubled young man, George Guppy, fresh from the Merchant Navy, takes the room in the Beasley home, and it’s not long before Marjorie insists he call her ‘mum’. But Marjorie’s feelings towards George are hardly motherly. A few frantic gropes in the hallway establish her true intent.

intimate relationsThe film’s black comic approach to the dark, strange subject matter–blackmail, adultery and murder–is bold, and it works well, thanks largely to the marvelous performance of comedienne Julie Walters, who carries off the role as the peculiar Marjorie Beasley with aplomb. Marjorie is a case study in hypocrisy and sexual repression, and within the first scenes, it’s obvious that she’s rather strange. She sleeps separately from her one-legged WWII veteran husband for “medical purposes.” Wearing curlers, prudishly pronouncing constant judgments on the behaviour of others, she’s thoroughly capable of leading a double life with her young lodger–treating him like an overprotective, suffocating mother in front of others, but insisting that he supply her with sexual favours when alone. Mr. Beasley, who spends his nights getting drunk in the local pub, is completely oblivious to what is going on under his nose. Marjorie’s 13-year-old daughter, Joyce (Laura Sadler), however, isn’t so easy to deceive. Joyce’s natural curiosity about sex is flamed by the proximity of her mother’s affair and a burgeoning crush on George. A bizarre, destructive and pathological triangle begins to form between George, Marjorie and Joyce.

Exactly what occurred in the peculiar Beasley household in 1950s Britain is largely speculation, but the events depicted in the film are based on a true story, and the film emphasizes the pathological relationships that developed between George, Joyce and Marjorie with strong strains of black comedy. It’s a situation that grows increasingly more ridiculously bizarre, spiraling out of control until passion collides with murder.

This is a perfect role for Julie Walters. Here she’s a tightly wound, somewhat frightening housewife whose fussy, prim and proper exterior is a cover for a double life. The film, from writer/director Philip Goodhew, successfully conveys the sense that the situation was created by the three unique personalities of the three main characters–who, once locked in to the claustrophobic situation of living under the same roof, found it impossible to escape–except by murder.

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