In preparation for the upcoming Smackdown, Stinkylulu’s waxing eloquent this week on an especially worthy subject – Margaret Leighton’s complex and rewarding work in “The Go-Between”(1971). Reading Stinkylulu’s exploration of the performance is nearly as much fun as watching Leighton deliver it.
From this corner, I’d like to offer three resounding cheers to the actress for a trio of terrific supporting performances in the early 70’s. Thank God that, with the “Go-Between” nomination, the Academy recognized at least one of them. The other two were just as good, maybe better: “Lady Caroline Lamb” (1972) and “The Nelson Affair” (1973).
The latter’s not much of a movie – just another souvenir from the time when it was raining Glenda Jackson movies. Accolades for Jackson were coming fast and furious too. The Oscar for “Women in Love” was understandable. No real problem with the nod for “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, either. But eventually things got out of hand. Probably the only reason Jackson didn’t snag a nomination for “The Nelson Affair” (a reunion with “Sunday” co-star Peter Finch) was that the Academy was busy actually handing her a second Oscar that year for the utterly disposable “Touch of Class”. A clear case of carrying things too far. It reminds me of a friend’s description of Greer Garson during her early 40’s hey-day . Graciously negotiating her way through the war years , nominations sticking to her skirts like static cling. Jackson’s skirts may not have been quite so daintily hoisted. But they crackled, nevertheless, with Academy cling. Truth be told, it was Margaret Leighton (as Lord Nelson’s betrayed wife) who provided “The Nelson Affair” with its only real interest acting-wise. The performance, superlative by the way, went largely unnoticed. I suppose, by this time, people just expected great acting from Leighton, simply accepting it as a matter of course.
"Lady Caroline Lamb"'s a much more entertaining piece, with Sarah Miles sublimely cast as an impossible daughter-in-law and Leighton dizzyingly good as the mother-in-law who has to contend with her. The film was in and out of theatres in a heartbeat, had a brief video release years ago and is yet to see the light of day on DVD. So it’s not that familiar to most people. But fans of Miles and Leighton who haven’t caught up with it can certainly look forward to a treat. Physically Leighton was Vivien Leigh-ish. Not as heart-stoppingly beautiful in her youth. Not as sexy. But she developed into a character actress of infinitely greater versatility. I recently caught up with her largely unheralded film debut in “Bonnie Prince Charlie”(1948). She transforms what could’ve been just a conventional leading-lady-in-a-Technicolor-adventure-film assignment into something quite unique. Gentle. Wise. Strong. Melancholy. Endearing. Yet there’s never a hint of cliché. Handed a role that could have been as bland as Bo-Peep, she’s simply intriguing. And it’s pretty much down to her own special art. Her care with the Scottish accent. Her lovely engagement with the actors around her. Her unmistakable presence. All these things announce the arrival of a genuine artist.
Leighton’s glorious 1-2-3 punch in the early 70’s displays that artistry in full, rich bloom. There’s a moment early on in “The Go-Between” – certainly not the climax of her performance – but, like so many moments in Leighton’s career, treasurable. Wearing an imposing hat, elegantly pouring tea from a silver service, virtually orchestrating the scene around her, she still manages to make a delicious meal out of the monosyllable “why?”.