Monday, March 27, 2017

Buried Treasures: Thank You All Very Much (1969)


Of all the premium channel “freeviews” that we received during the latter part of February and early March, I think the one from Epix was my favorite.  There wasn’t too much on the regular schedule that attracted my interest (though the ‘rents enjoyed the multiple showings of the Indiana Jones movies) …but they have a nifty little section called “Vault” in their On Demand offerings, and you can find the occasional little cinematic nugget or two.  (Sadly, more than a few of them are bad public domain prints, as I will discuss in blog posts later this week.)  One of these was a 1969 feature entitled Thank You All Very Much, an adaptation of Margaret Drabble’s 1965 feminist novel The Millstone.

Sandy Dennis
As the opening credits unspool, we learn along with doctorate student Rosamund Stacey (Sandy Dennis) that she is great with child after her first sexual encounter.  This activity did not occur with either of the two men she’s been seeing off and on—Roger Henderson (John Standing) and Joe Hurt (Michael Coles)—but with a television news reader, George Matthews (Ian McKellen), to whom she was introduced by Joe.  Reticent at first to talk about the pregnancy, Rosamund eventually reveals her condition to both Roger and Joe while informing them they are not the father.  Rosamund has made up her mind that she’s going to have the child, despite the efforts of her friend Lydia Reynolds (Eleanor Bron) and her sister Beatrice (Deborah Stanford) to convince her there is an alternative route.

When I saw Sandy Dennis’ name in the cast of this film originally shown to U.K. audiences as A Touch of Love, I knew I had to sit down with it.  I’ve always been a huge Dennis fan, even though I know for many movie mavens she’s an acquired taste (this wag over at TCM refers to her as “Our Lady of the Nervous Tics”).  Dennis, an Academy Award winner for Best Supporting Actress in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), was an accomplished stage actress (winning back-to-back Tony Awards for A Thousand Clowns [1963] and Any Wednesday [1964]) who made her feature film debut in Splendor in the Grass (1961) and after her Oscar win for Woolf was a leading lady in such movies as Up the Down Staircase (1967), The Fox (1967), Sweet November (1968), and The Out-of-Towners (1970).

Eleanor Bron, Dennis, Sarah Whalley
Sandy’s screen characters always fascinate me with their vulnerability…and yet they often manage to find their inner strength; her idealistic schoolteacher in Staircase—a movie I prefer to the better known To Sir, With Love, released the same year—is a great example of someone who succeeds not through the force of personality but a quiet determination to overcome adversity.  Dennis’ Rosamund Stacey in Thank You All Very Much reminds me a great deal of Staircase’s Sylvia Barrett, in that Rosamund is often unsure of herself with regards to the decision she’s made to keep her baby.  (I find the reactions of several of the supporting characters in Thank You—who have convinced themselves that single motherhood is a crippling societal stigma—quite intriguing.)  But Rosamund is a bright, funny, intelligent woman who realizes that taking the easy way out by settling for either Roger or Joe is not a road she wants to travel; both men are real wankers (particularly Roger, who marries another woman not long after Rosamund has her little girl…yet later hits on Lydia at a party) and it’s a little puzzling as to what attracted our heroine to them in the first place.

Dennis, Ian McKellen
Even more puzzling is Rosamund’s decision not to reveal the truth to George that the girl she eventually names “Octavia” is his daughter—because George seems to be a decent sort and a not-too-shabby candidate for a husband (he’s more sensitive and understanding than her other beaus, for starters).  The audience receives a few hints as to why Rosamund is reluctant to get married; several flashbacks show us her relationship with her mother (Peggy Thorpe-Bates) and father (Kenneth Benda) is a polite but strained one…and she’s realized that the presence of the traditional family unit isn’t necessarily a guarantee for stability and/or happiness.  It could also be that she’s suspected that George is bisexual (hinted at but never explicitly stated…which is why the casting of Ian McKellen—in his feature film debut—is a nice call).  Ultimately, it’s made clear that Rosamund has simply decided, like Garbo, she wants to be alone; as The New York Times review by Roger Greenspun nicely reinforces: “[I]ts particular contribution is in understanding that loneliness is not so much desolation as it is a different set of associations.”

The American title of the movie references a bit of sarcasm from Rosamund after she’s been poked and prodded by several student doctors who are unable to see past her as a patient; considering the cold bureaucratic treatment she receives at the hands of Great Britain’s National Health Service I’m surprised politicians in this country haven’t seized upon Thank You All Very Much as an argument against us lefties who advocate for a single-payer system (which we ultimately can’t have…because freedom).  One of the highlights of the movie is when Rosamund, fed up with the rules and regulations dictated to her by a Nurse Ratched-like matron (Rachel Kempson—mother to Lynn and Vanessa Redgrave) as to why she can’t see Octavia (the baby’s had to be hospitalized for a congenital heart defect), decides to make a fuss by screaming at the top of her lungs until a sympathetic doctor (played by Maurice Denham) arrives to cut through the hospital’s frustrating red tape.

I love Sandy Dennis (who we lost much too soon) …but having one of my other favorites, Eleanor Bron, in this film as Dennis’ supportive friend was the cherry on top of the sundae; there are also wonderful performances from McKellen, Denham, and Kempson…plus TV veteran Waris Hussein (later an Emmy Award winner for 1985’s Copacabana) shines in his feature film directorial debut (he later went on to helm Quackster Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx [1970] and The Possession of Joel Delaney [1972]).  This one hasn’t made it to DVD yet, so if you’re getting Epix on your cable or satellite system and have access to their Vault on Demand, keep an eye peeled.

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