1996, R, 100 min. Directed by Philip Goodhew. Starring Julie Walters, Rupert Graves, Matthew Walker, Laura Sadler, Holly Aird, Les Dennis.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 10, 1997
Intimate Relations is a dark, depressingly off-kilter black comedy based on “a true story.” In a small village outside of London in 1954, lodger Harold Guppy (Graves) has come to live in the Beasley household, a strict, prim, and altogether proper family unit lorded over by the dour and utterly practical Marjorie Beasley (Walters). While she attends to the daily chores of cleaning the dust from the banister, doing the laundry, and so on, her handicapped veteran husband Stanley putters down to the local pub and crawls inside a lager keg. The couple's young daughter Joyce (Sadler), a not-quite-yet sexually active nymphet, soon takes a liking to Guppy, a sad young man who is apparently the victim of a bizarre and unhappy childhood. Joyce isn't the only one, however, who finds the bewildered Guppy attractive. Mrs. Beasley also lets it be known that her home life lacks certain epicurian facets that she hungers for, and before you can say obsessive/compulsive, the good Mum has flung herself into the sack with the dodgy lodger. From here it grows, overtaking Joyce, Harold, and Marjorie until the lines between romance, lust, and madness blur in a violent, violet haze, and old Stanley totters drunkenly on the landing, oblivious to it all. Good old-fashioned English propriety gone off the deep end is what Goodhew is skewering here and he does it all with an accomplished, rapier wit. Vaguely reminiscent of some of David Lynch's more surreal works, Intimate Relations never quite steps full into the twilight zone of rampant imagination, though with its hyperreal colorings and retro-camp sets, the film stumbles perilously close. It works because it never quite oversteps these self-imposed boundaries. Do you laugh at this disintegrating family unit, cry, shriek, or what? It's a rhetorical question, really; you get out of it what you take in, and while some audience members may be fully shocked at what ultimately transpires, others may find it all uproarious. As one exiting audience member mentioned, “It's funny like Spanking the Monkey was” -- jokes in the most skillful of hands. Goodhew's taboo-juggling is a minor miracle, as are the performances by Walters, Graves, and Sadler (who evokes the coquettish pout and leer of an earlier, less debauched Lolita). Taken as a comedy or nightmare (and in the end it's a nightmare, surely), it's still a powerful piece of work. Grim work, indeed, but powerful nonetheless.