Seance On A Wet Afternoon (1964) [Talking Pictures TV 12.00am thursday]
(Sky 343, Freeview 81, Freesat 306 & Youview 81)
Written by Bryan Forbes from the book by Mark McShane, directed by Forbes.
Somewhat overlooked and partially forgotten British film that takes the realistic style that was popular at the moment and overlays it with an air of the supernatural and other worldly to extraordinary good effect.
Myra, a fake medium, tired of eking a living "contacting" the dead on behalf of her tiny group of adherents once a week, devises a plan to find fame, fortune and celebrity for herself and, with the aid of her down trodden husband Bill, sets about putting it into practice.
There's all sorts of themes and ideas being explored here : the nature of self-deception, the lure and pull of fame (long before it became fashionable to comment on), insanity, loss, delusion and desperation.
Kim Stanley as Myra is utterly astonishing. She holds the centre of the film and turns in a magnificent performance; by turns dominating, beguiling, wheedling, cunning and (ultimately) broken. Nominated for an Oscar (she lost to Julie Andrews for Mary Poppins) it's a fine piece of work, even down to an almost note perfect English accent.
She was to be nominated again in 1983 for her supporting role as Jessica Lange's chillingly dominant mother in Frances (1982) (losing again) - in between times working only fitfully and then mainly in TV; another example of a woman of enormous talent that Hollywood found difficult to slot into it's rigidly stereotyped casting moulds.
The other lead role - the defeated and compliant Bill, Myra's husband - is taken by Richard Attenborough, again giving one of his quiet unshowy performances that he was capable at one time. Meekly sublimating himself to his mentally scarred wife's every whim and command until, in the final reel, she pushes him just a little too further bringing about the hugely satisfying climax to the film.
Good support work from Nanette Newman as a clutching-at-straws young mum, Mark Eden as her husband and Patrick Magee as the investigating superintendent, all charm and urbanity.
A quick word for John Barry's score which is not only excellent (as you would expect) but adds superbly to the general air of strangeness that pervades the film.
And special words for director Bryan Forbes whose best film this is by some comfortable distance. He builds tension into every scene by the use of unusual camera angles (there's a lot of low angle shots), some well used extreme close-ups and constructive use of lighting. He subsumes the entire film in an aura of other wordiness and drops in the shocks and surprises with a deft touch.
Finally praise for the location shots of London just on the edge of becoming "swinging". A document of lost times including some great scenes shot in and around the Underground system.
A truly excellent and thoughtful film.