Thursday, February 17, 2011


I thought for a few minutes that this was a WWII film, but it's actually set in the late 50's during what's known as the Cyprus Emergency (in which the British fought Cypriot guerrillas). Private Potter (Tom Courtenay), part of a nighttime expedition, screams out loud and freezes up, giving away his group's position and leading to the death of a soldier. He is thrown into solitary confinement and threatened with court-martial, and claims he acted the way he did because God appeared to him in a vision and he was startled. No one quite believes him, but no one really seems to be terribly angry with him, either. Based on a TV play, the bulk of the film consists of people debating his situation--Is he mad? Is he a religious visionary? Is he a coward?--and ultimately coming to no solid conclusion. There is a parallel story involving a local who was working against the British and is caught, but it goes nowhere as well. Toward the end, Potter escapes during a rainstorm, goes into a stream, strips naked, and is eventually found and brought back--I assumed a "holy fool" hypothesis was about to be argued, but it isn't. If anything, the evidence of the film, which ends ambiguously, suggests that Potter is indeed a nut case, and by extension, so is everyone who claims visions of God, from St. Francis to Bernadette of Lourdes. But I might be letting my own beliefs (or lack of them) color my view. Courtenay is not compelling, befitting the overall effect of the movie which wants to be profound but is not. Later movies with similar themes, from KING OF HEARTS to BROTHER SUN SISTER MOON to AGNES OF GOD, work much better; maybe this one was trying to be ahead of its time, but it stumbled badly. [TCM]

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