between two women

2000

Written and Directed by Steven Woodcock

In all my years of watching films I have always considered British film to be the meat and potatoes of filmmaking. What I mean is, the British have a knack for finding the fundamental emotions behind a subject, especially when the film is set amongst the working class of England. They concentrate on reaching the harshness, the intensity of emotion buried beneath working class pride. Of course, there is that entire layer of British RomCom filmmaking of which Imagine Me and You is a part, but then there’s this deeper, gritty kind of melodrama, and this is where Between Two Women sits.

By saying that I’m merely trying to place the feeling of this film into some kind of filmic context. Between Two Women has a totally different feeling to all US-based lesbian films. It contains none of the raunchiness of modern lesbian film. There is no indie rock track, no young, androgynous lesbians kissing or having sex. This is older women, in an older time of life, in a vastly older setting. It is so bland in its photography as to be almost grey, a creative decision that serves to reinforce the greyness of the lives of the people within it.

Between Two Women is a period piece set in the fifties in Yorkshire, England. The story is about Ellen and Geoff Hardy and their son Victor, who is a child art protégé. Victor’s talent is discovered and encouraged by local art teacher Kathy, who becomes a fixture in Ellen and Victor’s lives. Ellen and Kathy begin spending long hours together talking, not just about Victor but about many things. We don’t see all this, it isn’t spelled out. In a representation of just how truly repressed Ellen’s emotions are, we must infer all this from the simple conversations we do hear. The two women are at first so careful, so polite. Eventually they trade first names, and Victor’s honest and growing attachment to his teacher forces Ellen to re-evalute her own feelings for Kathy in the light of her own failing marriage.

For his own part, Geoff takes both Ellen’s friendship with Kathy and his son’s talent as a personal affront. When Victor sells one of his drawings of the town mill to the city council, Geoff is incensed. The twenty-five pounds Victor earns is more than what Geoff earns sweating and labouring in the factory in a month. The idea that his son is perhaps destined for a life completely outside his ken disturbs him to the core, and he takes it out on Ellen and her friendship with Kathy. Ellen begins to finally see the walls within which she is trapped, and begins to quietly yearn for a way to escape. The constant train motifs throughout don't just reflect the industrial setting, they're a tantalising symbol of freedom, movement and escape.

Kathy is quite literally a splash of colour within Ellen’s drab existence. Despite his jealousy of their friendship, I don’t believe that Geoff ever really guesses that Kathy and Ellen’s relationship is exactly what it is, or what it will become even after he leaves. Ellen herself denies it, until she has a minor epiphany in her son’s bedroom as they sit talking about Kathy while they’re away on holiday, during a particularly harsh thunderstorm. She is metaphorically hit by lightning, and the realisation just makes her life even more miserable.

The reconciliation of the two women to their love is really quite sweet, and damningly realistic. The scope of the film unfortunately does not allow us to follow them on their initial journey as lovers, it ends rather abruptly. In a way though, the ending does make sense in terms of the fact that the film isn’t really about the relationship, but about Ellen’s blossoming emotions and her ability to escape from the ties of her working class existence.

The film is slow, subtle and visually monotonous. That could read as both a compliment and a criticism, and I guess it is meant as both. It treads ground that I feel has already been well-trodden. Just because we’re removing the characters to the sixties and putting them in Yorkshire doesn’t change the fact that the whole thing boils down to yet another coming out story. The strength of the film lies in the fact that the story unfurls with a vast deal of emotion, allowing us to really feel for these people, even if the vast majority of us can’t relate to this life. I do feel that many non-English people might find this difficult to relate to and boring, and many English people might find this a fairly typical English film, just with the added twist of it being about lesbians. I can’t really guess what kind of audience writer/director Steven Woodcock is trying to tap into. The film seems to simply lack that kind of focus.

Between Two Women is not the film you want to watch sitting around with your friends on a Saturday night for kicks and giggles. It’s the kind of thoughtful, intimate film that appeals to film buffs and people who haunt film festivals and late-night movie channels looking for rare gems. It’s deeply romantic without being sentimental, intelligent without being condescending. However, even for all that, sadly I don’t think it will find an audience. It could be that this will intrigue you, but it could also be the most painfully boring film you see all year. As for me, I think I’ll sit on the fence, but I’m leaning towards liking it.

Note: Once again, this is a film that has been ridiculously ripped to shreds in various DVD releases. Region 2 and 4 viewers should really attempt to find a region 1 version, as some of the more beautiful scenes have been inexplicably removed, perhaps to help sell the film as more “family” viewing.

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