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United Kingdom 1964
Directed by
Bryan Forbes
115 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Seance On A Wet Afternoon

This Richard Attenborough/Bryan Forbes collaboration (they co-produced, Forbes wrote the screenplay and Attenborough stars) with its modestly-budgeted story of the quiet desperation of a lower middle class London couple is typical enough of British film-making of the period (a comparison with William Wyler's The Collector which came out the following year and which also deals with an abduction makes the difference from a Hollywood take on the subject very apparent) . For audiences who like such fare it will have appeal although it is probably a bit dated in sensibility,  too lugubrious and persistently musty in tone, as well as being overly drawn-out, to appeal to a broader audience interested soley in the merits of its kidnapping story.

Attenborough plays Billy, an anonymous little man who is devoted to his domineering wife, Myra, who wants people to believe that she has psychic powers. So under the thumb is he that he goes along with her plan to kidnap a child so that she can reveal its whereabouts to public acclaim.

Attenborough, who won Best British Actor at the BAFTAs for his against-type performance is very effective as Billy the husband who, in what is the most interesting aspect of the film, well-recognizes his wife’s madness but is trapped by his relationship with her into compliance whilst American stage and television actress Stanley who was nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars is especially good as the seriously self-deluded woman.  

Although there are some plotting issues, particularly late in the film when there are gaping ellipses in the mechanics of the kidnapping, the film conveys a persistently creepy atmosphere of suppressed dysfunctionality that is so typically English and it is this, and the film’s compassion for the pitiful couple, that is really the main substance of the film, the abduction, at least by Hollywood standards being a background element, albeit a disturbing one.   

FYI: For Anglophiles there is some nice location photography of early ‘60s Central London.




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