David Hare's Wetherby is an elegant and understated film packed with the cream of Britain's acting talent including Vanessa Redgrave, Tom Wilkinson, Judi Dench and Ian Holm, that manages to haunt the mind long after viewing is over. It is a film permeated with the atmosphere of loss, looking at the ripples left behind by a sudden death of a stranger. It suggests no death goes unnoticed and unfelt, the living are always affected in some way and may find themselves looking at themselves anew.

At the film's centre is Jean Travers, played by the superb Redgrave, a seemingly successful teacher with a warm group of friends who enjoy many a wine-drenched night of debate in her cosy house in Wetherby, West Yorkshire. Early in the film we are taken through one particular small dinner party. One of the men at the table, John Morgan, sits quietly all evening contributing little except a melancholy rumination on how psychiatric jargon is little substitute for raw expressions of heartfelt pain.

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The next day, unannounced, he comes back to Jean's house, sits down for a cup of tea and shoots himself suddenly through the mouth. As the police investigation into the suicide unfolds, a curious fact emerges-John Morgan was not known to any of the other people at the dinner party, nor Jean. Apparently he invited himself and in the confusion of the evening was assumed to be a friend of at least one person at the table. Questions arise: who was he really, why did he come to Jean's house, and why did he kill himself?

Though Jean did not know John Morgan, his death begins to unlock repressed memories and dark passions within. As the film unfolds in a jigsaw puzzle of interlocking flashbacks to the recent and distant past, also jumping back to the present, and we see Jean trying not only to understand the self-destructive impulses behind Morgan's fateful decision and give some reason to his death but forced to confront the mourning she has been in her own life. Her life is one, we learn, which seems to have been perpetually on hold since the pointless death of her young RAF fiance in Malaysia decades ago (these flashback scenes actually feature Redgrave's daughter Joely Richardson playing her younger self). She has never really stopped waiting for him to come back. Soon Jean finds that she might share far more with John Morgan than she realised - she put all of her passion into one person who died so many years ago and there has never been anything that burned as bright since.

Thought provoking and well acted, Wetherby is a moving examination of what a death means to those left behind.

Reviewed on: 26 Oct 2010
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The suicide of a young man, causes repressed passions to bubble up for a schoolteacher and her friends.
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