Color, 1972, 93 mins. 1 sec.
Directed by Michael Apted
Starring Glenda Jackson, Oliver Reed, Brian Deacon
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Polar (DVD) (Spain R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
After cutting his teeth on British television and inaugurating what would become his landmark Up series (with updates shot every seven years), Michael Apted made his feature film debut with The Triple Echo, a gripping little countryside chamber piece centered around three strong performances and a peculiar narrative gimmick that made it a challenge to market at the time. Women in Love stars Glenda Jackson and Oliver Reed are reunited here and get a fine showcase that allows them to flex their dramatic muscles in some interesting ways, with then newcomer Brian Deacon (Vampyres, A Zed and Two Noughts) also making his first big screen appearance.
With her soldier husband held captive in Japan during World War II, Alice (Jackson) has been left alone to tend to their country farm. One day she encounters a young man, Barton (Deacon), wandering nearby and takes him in where he earns his keep by doing work around the property. They soon begin an affair and it transpires that he's deserting his post in the military, which they decide to pull off by disguising him in drag and passing him off as her visiting sister. The ruse works at first, but when a sergeant (Reed) takes a liking to the young "woman," the perilous nature of their deception soon becomes apparent.
The gender bender aspect of this film (which inspired its misleadingly lightweight alternate U.S. title, Soldier in Skirts) is a bit unique here for Apted, but the issues of identity, female realization, and one's place in society are definitely all him and a precursor to where he would eventually head with Coal Miner's Daughter. As with most similar attempts, Deacon is never remotely convincing as a woman but the committed performances and keen sense of atmosphere manage to pull it off all the same on the way to a particularly surprising, memorable final scene. As a sort of psychosexual love triangle it would actually play well with a number of late '60s films with a similar mindset like The Fox or The Killing of Sister George, albeit with a few twists of its own.
Despite its pedigree, this film hasn't been the easiest to see over the years outside of an early PAL VHS release and an underwhelming Spanish DVD. Luckily the 2019 Blu-ray from Indicator gives it a chance to find a new audience complete with an exclusive new 2K restoration from the original negative. It's a very drab, cool-looking presentation, which presumably matches the original intent; detail is impressive with the outdoor scenes looking especially crisp. The LPCM English mono audio is also very good if undemanding for any home theaters, and optional English SDH subtitles are provided. Apted appears for the new featurette "A Matter of Life and Death" (14m48s) recalling his shift to narrative films and the "holy cow" coup of getting Jackson during the height of her busiest schedule, as well as dealing with Reed (who was insistent on getting Apted "blind drunk" during the shoot). Next up is Deacon with "Identity Crises" (28m51s), who presents his own take on the Reed drinking story and explains how the cross-dressing nature of his role posed some particular challenges to the crew with Jackson in particular being a big help during production. He also tells a lengthy story about going to the film's premiere and recalls the contrasting professional and personal rapport between Reed and Jackson. Editor Barrie Vince appears next for "A Different Perspective" (24m33s) to explain how he and Apted explored different options with shots and editing techniques on the film, including a single-take reshoot that greatly improved a key scene and the task of coming up with the right way to pull off the tricky ending. In "Dressing Up" (8m55s), costume designer Emma Porteous offers her own views on how she came up with the right dress for Deacon including the obvious task of covering up some telltale signs of his gender. In "The Emotion of the Moment" (8m2s), composer Marc Wilkinson (If...) discusses the largely pastoral approach he took to his score and the period source music that ended up being handed off to someone else. Finally, author Neil Sinyard takes an overall view of the film in "A Sense of Justice" (22m42s) with a dissection of the film's 1970 source novel by H.E. Bates, the complex treatment of characterization and gender, and the film's place in Apted's early output. Finally the disc closes out with the film's condensed Super 8 version (19m34s), featuring optional subtitles as the audio's in rough shape, along with the theatrical and teaser trailers and a gallery of production and promotional photos. The limited, 3,000-united edition also comes with an insert booklet featuring new liner notes by Pasquale Iannone, an archival interview with Apted, a brief Bates written piece about the adaptation, sample critical reactions, and a look at the interesting trailer's creation by Jean Fouchet.
Reviewed on March 8, 2019.