ON DVD & BLU-RAY
The Triple Echo (1972) dir: Michael Apted Blu Ray (Indicator)
An army deserter disguises himself
This British drama is set in rural England during WWII. Glenda Jackson plays Alice, a woman running a farm in the absence of her husband who is being held as a POW by the Japanese. One day, she encounters a young soldier named Barton (Brian Deacon) who is trespassing on her land. While she is initially furious at his presence, she has a change of heart and decides to invite him in. Soon afterwards, they become lovers.
Barton subsequently decides to desert the army in order to be with her and help out on her farm full-time. However, out of concern for him being discovered and court-martialled, she persuades him to don some of her clothing in order to pose as her sister. The ruse holds up well until, one day, a tank from the local army base drives through her field - the result of a map-reading error on behalf of the commanding Sergeant (played by Oliver Reed). This results in complications when he claps eyes on Alice’s supposed sister and begins to get ideas that “she” might be interested in being his date at the upcoming Christmas dance.
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Apted’s intriguing debut
The Triple Echo was the movie debut of director Michael Apted, who subsequently became better-known for helming multiple Oscar nominees Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980) and Gorillas in the Mist (1988), as well as the Bond film The World is Not Enough (1999). It’s a strange but somewhat interesting low-budget drama which, rather like fellow Brit John Schlesinger’s later Yanks (1979), takes a look at World War II from the perspective of the home front. Moreover, both films effectively depict the febrile sexual tensions which inevitably arise from a situation where men spend a long time separated from women by the demands of combat. However, this one is somewhat darker and more unconventional in tone as well as being rougher around the edges.
Despite this being Apted’s first big-screen venture, he displays an impressive skill in his use of the overcast Wiltshire rural landscapes to create a suitably intimate and moody environment for the drama to play against. The first half of the film is almost entirely a low-key two-hander between Glenda Jackson and Brian Deacon, who turn in believable performances as a pair of people who gradually bond, fall in love and (as with most couples in the real world) spend as much time bickering with each other over every little thing as they do comforting each other in bed. Unfortunately, their disagreements paradoxically become all the greater when Deacon’s Barton decides to desert the army in order to spend more time with her. There’s a clear ambiguity here as to his feelings about being asked to dress up as a woman so as to avoid detection. While vocally he is clearly reticent to do so, we also get a sense that he’s embracing it more fully than Jackson’s Alice really would like.
Oliver Reed arrives in the picture at around the halfway mark, his tank rudely tearing up the grassy field outside the farmhouse. From then on in, he pretty much owns the film. He’s hilarious and discomfiting as the crudely lecherous, alcoholic Sergeant who won’t take no for an answer from either Alice or his supposed “sister”. Later on, Reed also gets to display a much wider acting range than simply playing himself (ouch) when he suddenly changes tack and becomes an officious army bully of the most intimidating kind.
However, while The Triple Echo gets by pretty well on the strengths of its three central performances, it isn’t without its flaws. The main one is that the setup for the eventful and tragic third act isn’t entirely convincing. Without wanting to give too much away, it basically involves two characters behaving with staggering naivety and misjudgment. While the resultant climax is effectively disturbing and suspenseful, the aforementioned developments could have certainly been handled better.
Nonetheless, if you can overlook that particular fly in the ointment, The Triple Echo is an intriguing effort with an unusual (for the 1970s) subtext in relation to gender identity.
Runtime: 94 mins
Dir: Michael Apted
Script: Robin Chapman, based on a novella by H.E. Bates
Starring: Glenda Jackson, Oliver Reed, Brian Deacon, Anthony May, Gavin Richards
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
The Triple Echo has been superbly restored here. The naturalistic feel has been so well restored that, if you didn’t know better, you might be convinced that it was shot very recently. The music and dialogue are smooth and pleasing on the ears.
A Matter of Life and Death
Director Michael Apted talks about his experiences of making his first film. He got the job of directing The Triple Echo because actress Glenda Jackson was contracted for just 6 weeks of shooting and the producers felt that his background of working on television would mean that he could easily stick to a quick schedule. He, likewise, was attracted to the project because he enjoyed H.E. Bates’s source novella. He also felt a connection to the story of a woman fending for herself due to his memories of his own mother never being able to fulfil her potential.
He also discusses working with Glenda Jackson, Oliver Reed and Brian Deacon. He recalls that Reed (true to nature) pressured him into getting drunk one night because he felt that he was too uptight! Deacon, like Apted, was making his feature film debut here and (again like Apted) found it challenging to work with high-powered personalities Reed and Jackson.
Actor Brian Deacon discusses his experiences of The Triple Echo in this highly interesting featurette. He reveals that, in order to make him look appropriately feminine, he was given a razor and told to shave his body himself. The first time he did so in the bath, resulting in the water turning red from multiple cuts. His on-set injuries didn’t come exclusively from shaving slip-ups either: during one scene where Oliver Reed slammed him against a wooden cupboard, his back was cut open and a crew member noticed that he was bleeding heavily. More entertainingly, he also talks about the fateful night when Reed invited himself, Michael Apted and cinematographer John Coquillon out for a night of heavy drinking. The results included a hotel bathroom covered with vomit and spending days being nagged by Glenda Jackson for turning up on the set hung over.
However, although he argued with Jackson on a few occasions, he generally found her to be very helpful. They ended up working together again on stage.
A Different Perspective
Editor Barrie Vince talks about his contribution towards the film; as he puts it, “a different perspective”. It’s an interesting featurette as he discusses his input into several key scenes. For one thing, he originally felt that the three arguments between Jackson and Deacon’s characters were too similar in style. This prompted Michael Apted to reshoot the third so that the actors went through it more quickly, thus making it feel different.
He also mentions the originally proposed opening which offered a flash-forward “teaser” of Oliver Reed’s Sergeant character arriving in his tank. Producer Graham Cottle told Vince that the first 40 minutes felt overlong and ordered him to make cuts. However, he came to the conclusion that the only thing he could viably remove was this opening. Eventually, Cottle and Apted agreed to drop it and have it replaced with two brief shots: a long shot of the valley followed by another introducing Jackson’s character and two Hurricane fighter planes flying over.
A shortish but enjoyable interview with the film’s costume designer, Emma Porteous. She talks about her design choices for the period costumes. Notably, she mentions that Brian Deacon’s dress was deliberately designed with a frilly neck in order to hide his Adam’s apple.
The Emotion of the Moment
Composer Marc Wilkinson briefly talks about his score for the film.
A Sense of Justice
Neil Sinyard, Professor of Film Studies at the University of Hull, takes a look at this near-forgotten early 1970s curio. He particularly notes the factors that made it interesting then, in comparison with those that are more relevant now. At the time, its undoubted main draw was that it reunited Jackson and Reed after the success of Women in Love (1969). Nowadays, however, it is of more interest due to its look at gender fluidity. There’s the underlying love triangle dynamic of a masculine woman falling for a feminine man and, more ironically, a macho man falling for the feminine man under the mistaken belief that he is female. Gender definitions are also examined from the perspective of the way in which women had to take on traditionally male duties when their husbands were out fighting.
He also reveals that there are a couple of significant changes between book and film. Firstly, the book skipped over the pivotal events in the dancehall which are portrayed very vividly on screen. Secondly, the details of the violent ending (which I won’t spoil) were fundamentally altered.
The other extras here include a collector’s booklet, a Super 8 version, trailers and an image gallery.
The Triple Echo is an interesting, well-acted drama and well worth a look even if some of the details aren’t entirely convincing. The restoration and extras are great.