Langrishe, Go Down

on July 17, 2002 by Michael Tunison
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Digitally restored re-releases of established big-screen classics are fine and dandy, but you know somebody on the art-house revival circuit is really doing their job when they pull a Harold Pinter-scripted 1978 BBC production starring a young Jeremy Irons and a pre-Dame Judi Dench out of entertainment limbo. While "Langrishe, Go Down's" dated, somewhat creaky visual style never lets a modern viewer forget he's watching a 25-year-old telly program, the spectacle of two such ferocious actors going at it in the context of a complex, thoughtful drama makes this one worth going down for.

Adapted by Pinter from Aidan Higgins' novel, the 1930s-set story follows Anglo-Irish aristocrat Imogen Langrishe (Dench), whose once-wealthy family has fallen in the world to the extent that she and her sisters are being forced to sell their rural Irish estate. Things are pretty dreary around the old homestead until Imogen secretly hooks up with a poor German scholar named Otto (Irons) who is lodging there. The illicit physical relationship that develops initially seems to open up the less-worldly Imogen's horizons, but it's clear enough from the piece's bleak tone that the affair can't remain a blissful erotic adventure for long.

While elements such as early screen time devoted to Imogen's commanding older sister (Annette Crosbie) sometimes work awkwardly into the mix, the drama develops real momentum when it settles down to focus almost exclusively on the unequal, not particularly loving pairing of the lonely Imogen and the arrogant intellectual Otto. Director David Jones ("The Confession") and playwright/screenwriter Pinter (who pops up as a friend of Otto's in a boozy excursion to Dublin) craft a provocative portrait of how factors such as class, economic status and gender can create insurmountable walls between people--all told with a sexual frankness that may surprise American viewers who recall the corresponding "CHiPs" era of U.S. TV fare. Starring Jeremy Irons, Judi Dench, Annette Crosbie, Susan Williamson, Harold Pinter and Margaret Whiting. Directed by David Jones. Written by Harold Pinter. Produced by Max Rosenberg. A Castle Hill release. Drama. Unrated. Running time: 110 min.

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