6 April 2013 | robert-temple
'For a happy girl, you say such sad things'
This is one of the great poetic classic films of the 1960s. Much of the dialogue is pure poetry, the scenes exude an overwhelming atmosphere of longing, memory, and loss, and the central performance by Sarah Miles is one of the finest of her career. The screenplay was written by Edna O'Brien, with more than a whiff of the Celtic Twilight about it, based upon her short story 'A Girl by the Seaside'. O'Brien's talents as screenwriter and dramatist appear to have been overlooked and forgotten today, as she continues to bask in the admiration of the lovers of her novels and stories. But she definitely had this other string to her Gaelic bow, and it was a pity that it did not continue. I must be one of the few people who saw the off-Broadway production in New York of her powerful and emotional play THE GATHERING many long years ago now, which proved her worth as a playwright. Producers in Britain never wanted to look at it, possibly because writers belong in boxes, and O'Brien's box has always been firmly labelled 'novelist and writer of stories'. Speaking personally, I think her most impressive book (and I have not read them all by any means) was A PAGAN PLACE, which tells us more about the real Ireland than we ever dared to imagine. Those of us who are only part Irish, with a dash of that blood added to us as if it were Worcestershire Sauce (if such an English reference may be forgiven, for I know of no Irish sauce other than their wit), have often wondered what it must be like to be genuinely Irish. O'Brien tends to answer such questions, though her main purpose is to explain to everyone what it means to be a woman first, an Irish woman second, and an expatriate Irish woman last, for she lives in London, not in her old pagan place. This magnificent film is so evocative that it positively sings, and some of the Irish songs on the sound track are therefore most appropriate. I saw it when it came out, and never forgot the wonderful scene where the director Desmond Davis (whose best film this probably is) filmed the dancing Sarah Miles in a rapid retreating dolly shot down the main street by night of the small Irish fishing village on the coast of County Clare where this film was made. That wild cinematic moment truly captured the exuberance which Sarah Miles was trying to live once again by revisiting the village and her youth, after an absence of a few years. Miles was 25 by the time she made this film, but she easily managed to look 17 in the flashback sequences, of which there are many. She is one of the few actresses who ever managed perfectly to sustain looks of innocent ecstasy on her face and make us believe it. It is a positive crime against world culture that this film has never been released on either video or DVD. After years of searching, I finally managed to obtain a DVD of an off the air broadcast of the film which was shown long ago by Thames Television, a British company which only existed between 1968 and 1992. The O'Brien – Davis partnership continues to be well known by the survival and availability of their joint film GIRL WITH GREEN EYES (1964), which features such startling performances by Peter Finch and Rita Tushingham, and is a brilliant work of cinema as well. But this film in my opinion is superior even to that one. O'Brien's deeply unsettling and hair-raising, but scintillating, screenplay for the film THREE INTO TWO WON'T GO (1969) has also never been available for us to see, as that film has also never been released on video or DVD. I haven't seen it since it came out, but once seen, you can never forget it, although the story makes for an uncomfortable memory. This lyrical film alternates between past and present and concerns the story of Sarah Miles's character. She was an orphan whose father had been a fisherman, and she worked in the small hotel seen in the story. It is owned by the character played quietly and thoughtfully by Cyril Cusack. He had been her employer then, and now that she has suddenly and unexpectedly returned, he is her host now. It is the end of the season, and the little hotel cum pub is about to close for the winter. Miles is its last guest. The film opens with her rushing down ecstatically to the seaside, walking barefoot in the sand and wading in the gentle surf. As the evening draws in, she explores the village, seeing the same old shop and pub signs with their Irish surnames which we also see in flashbacks. This is a very remote place, with 482 inhabitants, as we later learn. Miles has come in search of her lost love of years before, the young seaman Colin, played by Irish actor Sean Caffrey. Can their lost love be resurrected? Does he still idolize Miles as she has idolized him all these years? ('It's always been you, Colin, it was always you.') Or will reality throw a cold towel over Miles's head and smother her in further, choking disappointments? Miles, desperately lonely and abandoned in London, reluctantly married one of the most horrible types of Englishmen, an arrogant, opinionated, self-regarding ass. She has fled from him in a desperate attempt to recover her true identity. But can this be done? The anguished desire to recapture lost dreams pervades this film, which is a true work of art and has lost none of its poignancy today. In America it was released as TIME LOST AND TIME REMEMBERED, and also released as PASSAGE OF LOVE.