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Glee and venom

By MICHAEL ATKINSON  |  May 8, 2007

After the New Wave years waned, Pinter became a crackerjack craftsman-for-hire, serving up fastidious but relatively straightforward genre screenplays (as for the spy drama The Quiller Memorandum) while pursuing his own theatrical program. In the next decades, however, things Pinteresque again made for some of England’s more memorable films. His eccentric and thoughtful mutation of John Fowles’s THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN (1981; May 29 at 6:30 pm and May 30 at 9 pm) morphed the novel’s metafictional self-examinations into a diptych comprising the period romance (involving another woman caught between a rock and the hard places men would put her) and the contemporary actors shooting the film, for whom illicit love is a different matter altogether. (Both pairs of lovers are played, with great tact, by Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep.)

Pinter also wrote the screenplay for Paul Schrader’s THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS (1991; May 29 at 9 pm and May 30 at 7 pm), which veered between black comedy and Mediterranean menace in accordance with Ian McEwan’s novel. But for 12-gauge Pinter, one should attend to BETRAYAL (1983; May 27 at 5 pm and May 28 at 7:15 pm). Lifted wholesale from his most successful play, it recounts an extramarital love affair backwards, from its dreary dénouement to its electric beginnings. It’s a three-person circus act, with Irons, Ben Kingsley and Patricia Hodge, and the results are unforgettable, as well as fascinating in the way only arch, unrealistic, deliberately artificial dramatics can be when executed by a master (that is, Pinter, Beckett, Albee, Shepard, and Mamet). Kingsley, for his part, seems like an alien creature trying semi-successfully to speak like an acculturated Englishman; it’s one of the most disarming performances of the decade.

Likewise, as the Pinterians would already know, the AFT film made of Pinter’s playTHE HOMECOMING (1973; May 22 at 6:30 pm and May 23 at 9 pm) is a shivery spectacle of oddness mustered from realism simply pushed over on its side. Directed by Peter Hall from perhaps Pinter’s most merciless play, The Homecoming reveals an all-male working-class family (Ian Holm, Cyril Cusack, Paul Rogers, Michael Jayston) driven insane by its own testosterone. When one grown son brings home a woman (Pinter’s then wife, Vivien Merchant), the humble London flat in question becomes a dog pit of patriarchal impulses and poisonous responsibility, all of it harrowingly in your face.

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