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The Odd Couple
on 21 January 2011
Not sure that this 1995 film is correctly titled, as it is as much about Lytton Strachey as it is about Dora Carrington. Indeed, Christopher Hampton's screenplay recognises this by stating it is based on Michael Holroyd's biography of Strachey. As expected, both Emma Thompson as Carrington and Jonathan Pryce as Strachey manage to infuse their roles with pathos and credibility. Carrington is played as the naïve but also playful artist; Strachey as the self-centred gay man of letters.
The film is split into six parts with the first seeing them meet for the first time in the Sussex of 1915, when Strachey mistakes Carrington for a boy. The second part, whilst focusing on Carrington's relationship with the anxious and virile artist Gertler (played by a young Rufus Sewell), also sees the growth of the relationship between the two main players, Carrington telling Strachey that she loves being with him as he is "so cold and wise".
Life after the Great War is portrayed in part three with the arrival on their scene of the less anxious but equally virile Rex Partridge (Steven Waddington), fresh from the military life. He proves a muse to both man and woman. The arrival of another man into their lives, the studious and quiet Gerald Brenan (Samuel West), is the main focal point of part four, but throughout Carrington remains loyal emotionally to Strachey, a loyalty possessed even to death.
The large detached property known as Ham Spray House provides the centre of part five, where Carrington, Strachey, and Partridge attach themselves to new loves; Beacus (Jeremy Northam), Roger Senhouse, and Frances Marshall respectively. The final part witnesses ... Well, for those who know, they know, but for those who do not, it would be unfair to give the game away.
Pryce at least gets to say some of Strachey's more famous bon mots. For example, on holidaying in Wales, he declares that, "I've come to the sad conclusion that there's no such thing as a beautiful Welsh boy"; of Lady Otteline Morrell (Penelope Wilton), "She's like the Eiffel Tower: she's very silly but she affords excellent views"; and on his deathbed, "If this is dying, I don't think much of it".
As with most biopics, the film is engrossing on first play, but can suffer from superficiality on later views, as you realise the impossibility of contracting a whole lifetime to a couple of hours. (Can it ever be any other way?) Having said that, I have watched this film more than once and the DVD will remain in my collection for future screenings.
I was a little disappointed to see little mention of their links with the Bloomsbury set. And my copy is not a perfect transfer to DVD with some specks on the screen and the music occasionally wavering. The music itself is excellent, with an original score from Michael Nyman and much (too much?) reliance on the slow movement from Schubert's string quintet.
Alas, there are no extras worthy of the name, although the closing credits end with a selection of Carrington's paintings, which show how original an artist she was, but also one that accorded with the style of her times.