Summer of 1900. This is the time period of Joseph Losey’s lush and romantic 1971 Palme d’Or winner The Go-Between. Screenwriter Harold Pinter, a frequent collaborater of Losey’s, adapted L.P. Hartley’s novel about a bitter old man named Leo (Michael Redgrave) who is looking back on his life with less than enthusiastic eyes. The story focuses on 12 year old Leo (Dominic Guard) and the summer he spends in Norfolk, England, as the guest of the upper class Maudsley family while on break from boarding school. Even though Leo is poor and seen as an outsider, the Maudsley’s do their best to make him feel at home- not only by lavishing him with room and board, but with expensive gifts as well. When Leo’s school friend, Marcus (Richard Gibson) falls ill, Leo desperately looks for something to fill his time. Soon, Leo becomes a “go-between” or a carrier of illicit love letters between the Maudsley’s adult daughter Marian (Julie Christie) and Ted Burgess (Alan Bates), the ruggedly handsome farmer who lives nearby. Leo is eager to carry the letters between the two parties because he has developed a schoolboy crush on the beautiful Marian. Leo is uncertain as to why Marian and Ted cannot be open about their budding relationship. Unbeknownst to Leo, Ted comes from a lower social class than Marian and the relationship between the two has no future. Marian’s love for Ted also puts them both on dangerous ground because she has recently become engaged to the Viscount Hugh Trimingham (Edward Fox). The secret affair is finally revealed when Marian’s suspicious mother (Margaret Leighton) forces young Leo to take her to the trysting place of Marian and Ted. Ultimately, Leo’s involvement as messenger leaves him emotionally scarred and tragedy soon befalls the family.
This meticulously directed and gorgeous period film scored one Academy Award nomination in 1971. The recipient of the nomination was British stage actress Margaret Leighton, nominee, (154), for her role as the sternly observant matriarch of the Maudsley family. Leighton’s Mrs. Maudsley is forever on the fringes of each scene she’s in, but the power and quiet strength she exudes is palpable. Leighton provides a serene, calculating presence throughout most of the film, yet it’s in the film’s final act that Leighton’s Maudsley erupts without warning like a once-dormant volcano. Margaret Leighton lost the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress to Cloris Leachman in The Last Picture Show.