The movie called “Falling” (2005) is a pun that puts together a woman who falls literally, rendering herself vulnerable, but who also falls for all the wrong men. This time it’s Michael Kitchen. What could be wrong with THAT, asks the Foyle’s War fan? Well, you see, Kitchen is NOT Foyle -- he’s an actor. I’m sure that like Robson Green, he thought it would be a good idea to show some rough edges to prove his range. (“Beaten,” also 2005, is the Green movie.) After all, it’s deadly dull to be too stainless and admirable, though I’m devoted to Foyle.
“Henry Kent,” the character in “Falling,” is not only a rotter who evidently had all his empathy knocked out of him as a child, but also he explains to the camera all the time, and we even see flashbacks. This vulnerable woman also talks to the camera and shows flashbacks, but her stories and what we see actually match, while the rotter’s don’t. The plot trick is that she makes her living writing novels but in a way he also makes his living by inventing stories about himself. They are both tale spinners.
I’ve been back to look at Kitchen in “Out of Africa,” where he’s puckish and agreeable, an excellent “foil” for Robert Redford -- in part because he’s physically small enough to make Redford look average -- and he’s very young, unlined, though this movie comes about halfway in a long career. In “The Buccaneers” he plays an irresponsible father, splitting the difference between Foyle and Henry as he takes a governess for a spin that is doomed from the beginning. As Foyle, Kitchen dresses in the fedora, three-piece suit, tie and overcoat that were standard uniforms of serious men in the Forties. He stands straight, walks like a dancer, the way Jonathan Pryce does, and shows the deepest emotions by simply closing his eyes while the wave breaks over him. The rest of the time his eyes rove and flirt, missing nothing, seeming to look elsewhere while proposing the truth to a culprit and then stabbing him or her with a stare as sharp as a fork piercing a frankfurter.
As Henry Kent, his clothes, his cap, his whole manner is raffish, off-hand, and evasive. It’s a shock to see him lounging, lurking, slumping, and another to see him undressed in bed with Daisy, his novelist victim. (Played beautifully by Penelope Wilton. I love BBC in no small part because their women seem real.) Nothing explicit is shown (I have a feeling that the actor Kitchen knows two important things: that it is better to imagine some things and that an actor must always preserve a bit of modesty.) but I must say that it must be very pleasant to wake in the morning to find this man leaning on a naked elbow under the covers.
Of course, Daisy can recover from victimhood, though her second failure as a husband-chooser has left her a bit paralyzed. We know now about the dynamics of the co-dependent woman, the one who can’t resist an exciting but dubious man because of the pleasure of saving him plus the adrenaline kick of the adventure. We know less about the narcissistic man, the one who believes the world is only his -- no one else quite exists. And who slips into violent tantrums if he doesn’t get his way. (Some will say that narcissists are incapable of self-analysis, but at this fascinating website, you’ll find an excellent example of one who can: http://samvak.tripod.com/narcissist/
In the US with a different sort of actor and director, etc, this tale would be a violent noir tragedy. But this is an intelligent and civilized English movie, often very funny in a rueful way, and the story ends much more like real life -- with a few bruises along the way. No one dies (sorry). Daisy may or may not be more mature but Henry is quite unchanged. The original novelist was Elizabeth Jame Howard, who was married to Kingsley Amis for ten years.
A male narcissist with a female co-dependent is a plot line that plays out over and over in both real life and in scripts. We recognize the roles, we respond to the issues, we find them in our own lives all the time, because they emerge from our gender assignments. Big tough guys who insist on their way, draw everyone else into their goals, take advantage of women, are everywhere from politics to the ministry. Doting, enabling, forgiving women are likewise everywhere from Laura Bush’s big white house to just down the street. These psychological patterns often succeed brilliantly. What if Henry Kent had been able to curb his temper and lend his gift for fabulism to Daisy, thus giving her career a major boost and bringing in enough money to keep Henry in a life of pleasant sloth?
The culture in question grows out of Euro-ag, where farming centered on a strong, driven man who could manage things in a very firm way for a goal he defined. And his success depended very much on a woman invested in keeping him happy, healthy and focused -- and it would be helpful if she could and would stay nearly continuously pregnant. (Productivity! The mantra of the farm!) One of the most interesting phenomena on the election circuit is the effort of the Clintons to reverse their roles -- not just that, but also the efforts of the rest of us to accept that what liberals have been predicting is actually possible. We CAN negotiate our social styles and capacities -- right? The conservatives would say absolutely NOT. (They were whistling a different tune when Elizabeth Dole was attempting something similar while her husband touted a little “marital enhancement” chemistry.)
People who do intellectual or aesthetic or technological work have a good deal more elbow room when it comes to choosing their personal patterns, either consciously or unconsciously. Therefore, it a wonderful thing when they pass on their insights to the rest of us, who may not have had the ability to try things out so much, and therefore can benefit by second-hand examples.
It is not accidental that Henry purports to be a gardener and is capable of actually performing up to a point. It is also not accidental that Daisy’s garden is overgrown into a jungle and needs pruning. When this is illustrated in terms of English landscape and households, we are so glad to watch that we don’t necessarily get the metaphorical value on first watching. This is not a “secret garden,” but it bears pondering.