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1997 - It's Different But Still Quite Intimate With Rupert Graves (And Miscellaneous Body Parts).

Author: Rebecca Flint.
Publication: Tbc.

To those of you who have seen Merchant Ivory's film adaptations of E.M. Forster's novels and have libidinous inclinations towards pale English men, the memory of Rupert Graves running around naked during the infamous "lake scene" in A Room With A View is a hard one to forget.

As Freddy Honeychurch, Graves let the audience know exactly what lurked underneath the starched collars and pressed trousers of the Edwardian period, and in doing so erased the common belief that most English people's genitalia has never come in contact with the world outside of their clothing.

In his two latest films, Intimate Relations and Different For Girls, there is nary a corset or cricket match in sight. Instead, corsets are replaced by sociopathic landladies and cricket matches by prim transsexuals. And although Different For Girls partially centers around issues concerning Graves's penis, the actual subject of such discussion only makes a brief, though memorable, cameo appearance.

More importantly, both films conduct compelling explorations of English society past and present, specifically in the culture's preoccupation with the importance of appearance and respectability.

Intimate Relations, the more lurid and haunting of the two films, takes place in the post-war England of the 1950s and is based upon actual events. The story revolves around the twisted triangle formed between landlady Marjorie Beasley (Julie Walters), her lodger Harold Guppy (Graves), and her thirteen year old daughter, Joyce (Laura Sadler).

Beneath a veneer of middle-class respectability, Marjorie, sexually estranged from her husband, begins carrying on an affair with Harold, all the while insisting he call her "Mum." Joyce soon discovers what is going on between the two and, under threat of blackmail, insists on being allowed to watch.

What ensues is a merry trip down the road to inevitable tragedy, in the process bringing to mind such films as Dance With A Stranger and Heavenly Creatures. The film is sadistically hilarious, but never lets us forget that the characters are worthy of our pity or at least deep concern.

Although Intimate Relations succeeds in inspiring such feeling, it does not succeed in making it last until the film's end. The marvellous pacing of the film's first half unfortunately does not translate to the second half so that by the time tragedy finally does strike, it is almost a relief.

The film is very compelling, but would have been even better had we not gotten so frustrated by the characters' frustrations, and, thus, tired of the characters. In this way, Intimate Relations is a bit like the period it is set in, full of perverse possibilities but never quite delivering their promise.

Different For Girls is the story of two school friends, Paul and Karl, who meet up after almost twenty years. In the time since they last saw one another, Paul (Graves) has remained an irresponsible punk trapped somewhere between puberty and adult responsibility, and Karl has become Kim (Steven Mackintosh), a post-operative transsexual.

The two painstakingly become friends again and then eventually become lovers. This transition is handled with amazing insight and skill, avoiding the tired transsexual stereotypes which only succeed in making transsexuals out to be advanced drag queens worthy of ridicule.

Mackintosh, in particular, gives a remarkably balanced performance as Kim, someone who has very clearly known she was meant to be a woman since birth.
The film gives what is possibly the most complex and mature discussion of sexuality and gender that I've ever seen in celluloid.

This makes it possible to forgive the film's flaws, which are essentially limited to mild bouts of cheesiness similar to ones exhibited in Four Weddings And A Funeral. Thankfully, Hugh Grant is nowhere in sight, replaced instead by an actor who, in both this and Intimate Relations, demonstrates that he has freed himself from the confines of Planet Merchant Ivory and whose considerable talent is not limited to his nether regions.

©1997 Rebecca Flint.