Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Kerry Fox won Best Actress at Berlin this year for a role that makes physical and emotional demands on her. French director, Patrice Chereau (La Reine Margot, Those Who Love Me Can Take The Train), is a man of integrity and courage. His films create waves of eroticism that threaten to flood the senses. And yet this is not a sexy movie. It is bleak and unfulfilling. Perhaps, that's London for you.

Jay (Mark Rylance) is a sad man. His marriage is over. He lives in a cramped, dirty flat and works at a fashionable watering hole as head barman. He takes this seriously. Once a week Claire (Fox) visits him in the flat and they have sex on the floor. And then she leaves. Nothing is said.

One day he follows her. She is rehearsing the main part in The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams in an amateur pub production. Jay meets her husband, Andy (Timothy Spall), who drives a cab. They play pool in the pub. Andy knows nothing of Jay's relationship with his wife.

By involving himself, however incognito, with Claire's family, he has broken the pact they may, or may not, have. He is driven by loneliness and the need to take what he has lost from someone else. He doesn't know what he is doing. He has reached a level of self-pity that constitutes clinical depression.

She is torn between a stale marriage with a decent man and something else with a stranger, who "probably doesn't know how to love". She resents being placed in this position. She doesn't want to make a choice.

Intimacy has become notorious for the explicit nature of its sex scenes. Chereau should be congratulated for his honesty, rather than reviled as a purveyor of soft porn. Based on a novel and short story by Hanif Kureishi, the film is littered with loose ends.

How did the arrangement between Jay and Claire come about? Why is Victor (Alastair Galbraith) there, other than to hang around the house like a bad smell? Is Jay's relationship with the gay bar staff significant? Is his friendship with Andy a charade? Why did the marriage break up and what's so odd about the way he speaks? Is Claire's friend, Betty, a literary device to indulge in girly gossip, or an excuse to introduce Marianne Faithfull without makeup?

Rylance is intense. His accent seems caught between West End weird and strangulated suburbia. He conveys Jay's sense of despair with cold efficiency. Fox grows into Claire. At first, her ability to struggle out of her clothes from a standing start feels like masochism gone mad. Later, with Andy and their son, the woman becomes whole and Fox's steely edge is exposed.

Reviewed on: 25 Jul 2001
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A divorced barman has sexual liaison with wife of London cabbie.
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Director: Patrice Chereau

Writer: Patrice Chereau, Anne-Louise Trividic, based on stories by Hanif Kureishi

Starring: Mark Rylance, Kerry Fox, Susannah Harker, Alastair Galbraith, Philippe Calvario, Timothy Spall, Marianne Faithfull, Fraser Ayres, Michael Fitzgerald, Robert Addie, Deborah McLaren, Rebecca R. Palmer, Greg Sheffield, Vinnie Hunter, Joe Prospero

Year: 2000

Runtime: 120 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK/France


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