Wetherby (1985)

Description   [from Freebase]

Wetherby is a 1985 British drama film written and directed by playwright David Hare. Set in the town of Wetherby in West Yorkshire, the film focuses on Jean Travers, a middle-aged spinster schoolteacher. One evening, she invites married friends for a dinner party, only to have some terrible repressions and past traumas dredged up when guest John Morgan expresses his emotional pain. The strange young man arrives at Jean's cottage the next morning with a gift of pheasants. While sitting at the kitchen table waiting for tea, he puts the barrel of a gun in his mouth and kills himself. From this point onward, the film's story is told in chronologically discrete, interlocking flashbacks to the recent and distant past, showing actions and events as seen and experienced from various points of view. The central mystery of Morgan's suicide is the fulcrum around which the narrative turns. The narrative construction of the film resembles a jigsaw puzzle and, in keeping with Hare's style of exposition, frequently appears to have key pieces missing. There are further scenes of the dinner party as well as scenes of the police investigation into the suicide.


Enticing setup: Man finagles his way into a dinner party thrown by strangers; no one knows who he is, but they’re too polite to kick him out or even ask about his identity. He spends the night, and promptly shoots himself in the head the next morning in the presence of the hostess.


Alas, this crazy introduction never leads to much more than curious rubbernecking, mainly because of the difficult structure it creates. The aftermath of Tom’s (John Morgan) horrific suicide is duly chronicled, but it frankly isn’t that compelling. Writer/director imagines that our heroine Jean (Vanessa Redgrave) will go to lengths to figure out why exactly this sad kid killed himself, and why he picked her kitchen to do it in. In addition to following a laconic police inquest (turns out she once had a thing with the investigator), Hare takes us to at least three different levels of flashbacks, ostensibly to explain the present.

And so we visit the dinner party in greater detail, and we jump way back to Jean’s formative years as she falls in love. And, strangely, we spend the last few days with Tom that lead up to his death — which is wholly bizarre since the film is told from Jean’s point of view. Who’s supposed to be remembering this stuff for us? Tom’s creepy friend, who shows up with little in the way of explanation? Managing the flashbacks while attempting to sympathize with the various borderline psychoses on display here is trying at best. When we do dig out the payoff of What Really Happened That Night, it feels phoney and unlikely.

Featuring a who’s who of British cinema (Ian Holm, Judy Dench, Tom Wilkinson) in supporting roles — not to mention Redgrave acting her knickers off –Wetherby has a pedigree which substantially outstrips its small and undercooked story.

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