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
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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