12 August 2013 | robert-temple-1
This film should have been amazing. It is directed by Otto Preminger, from a novel by Graham Greene, with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard, and has a cast of famous actors. But it is bleak, vague, meandering and disappointing. And what is worse than that, it is boring. It does however feature a very strong central performance by Nicol Williamson, and is the closest I have seen on screen to what Nicol was really like in person. Of course, Nicol's greatest screen triumph was when he played the lead in the amazing film INADMISSABLE EVIDENCE (1968, play and screenplay by John Osborne, directed by Anthony Page). It is a tragedy that that film is not available on video or DVD, as it shows what a human powerhouse Nicol Williamson was at his very best. One reason why this film has less kick than it should is because Williamson's South African wife is played by a first-time actress, known by the single name of Iman. (She later became famous because she married David Bowie, though David Bowie is not someone I personally have the slightest interest in, I must say.) She is totally unconvincing as a South African because she is so obviously a Somali, which must be 3000 miles away and racially unrelated. Because of her inexperience, she was unable to cope with the part successfully, though she improved in later scenes. This created a kind of vacuum, so that Nicol had to flail around a bit and generate the tension on both sides, as Iman was so inert in many of her scenes. Preminger was 74 by this time and clearly lacking in energy. He did not shoot enough cutaways, allowed shockingly poor lighting to be tolerated, was content with too many badly-framed long shots, and seems just to have let things drift. The story lacks focus and much of the suspense appears to be simulated. It is far from being a high voltage story, much less film. Derek Jacobi does a good job in an early role. Ann Todd and John Gielgud appear briefly, but only as cameos. Richard Attenborough does well, but Robert Morley, although incredibly sinister as he is meant to be, is also way over the top, suggesting that Preminger may have nodded off in his director's chair during the shooting of those scenes. At the very least, Preminger should have reduced Morley's 'eyebrow wobble factor'. The ending is intentionally bleak, in true Greenian fashion, and comes as a shocking irony so extreme that it might almost be said to have been the point of the whole exercise, or perhaps Greene's wry comment on the spy game in general. Or is it life that gets Greene down? Or sin? Or God? Or the Church? Or whatever it is that he is always banging on about, like a perverse child who wants to stamp on his rosary and shout profanities in which divine names are compromised by rude contexts? In any case, we have better things to do than watch films which fall short of our expectations, don't we?