The Go-Between is set in Norfolk, 1900, but begins in 1950 with the elderly Leo Colston (Jim Broadbent) lamenting in bucketfully. He wails (in his narration), “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.” He’s trying to hide the past, but realises he can never shake it off while it still haunts him. But do you try and get over what’s gone before or just let it take over and ruin everything still to come?
Told in flashback, we see Leo as a 13-year-old boy, dressed like Little Lord Fauntleroy, and after setting the scene between Leo and Marian Maudsley (Joanna Vanderham), with her bringing him under her wing amongst the well-to-do in high society, we’re introduced to local farmer Ted Burgess (Ben Batt), and since he rises out of the lake bare-chested like Daniel Craig in Casino Royale – except *without* his budgie smugglers.
Leo ends up being the one heading between Marian and Hugh, the Viscount of Trimingham (Stephen Campbell Moore), since she left her prayer book behind at church, and since Hugh now has two of them, he wants to give her one… But instead of beavering towards him, she just tells the lad to inform posh bloke that she said “Thankyou”. So, women were still gameplayers back in 1900.
However, it’s obvious from the moment she claps eyes on the farmer that she’d clearly she’d rather have a bit of rough in the form of Ted. She wants him to use his fork. Yes, to give her a good forking. And so, both of them get Leo to ferry messages to her.
After a while, curiosity gets the better of him and he reads one. He’s jealous, even though he’s way too young for her, which is understandably going to make him realise he’s been used and that if he’d been born 80-odd years later his summer days would be better spent playing on a ZX Spectrum.
Leo susses out exactly what’s going on and suggests she marry Ted, but she bemoans the fact she’s “got to” marry Hugh, such are the taboos of high society.
It’s a tale that’s been told many times since, where the girl is set up to marry the rich bore, while she’d rather have the bit of rough, but there’s a decent performance from all the leads, including the young Jack Hollington as Leo, who doesn’t even get a namecheck on the DVD cover!
Wouldn’tchaknowit, it all ends with everyone finding out on-the-spot that Marian and Ted are doing the do. Hugh’s somehow subdued, while matriarch Julia (Lesley Manville) is beside herself and wailing like a banshee. Stupidly, Ted kills himself. When I heard a gunshot, I thought Hugh’s brains would’ve been decorating the countryside.
Well, it actually ends with returning back to 1950 where we find the older Leo still hasn’t got over it all. “I’ve been too afraid to live”. Oh, take a chill pill, mate.
And did he see Ted in the distance, in the present day? (well, 1950) Not quite, He meets up with the elder Marian (Vanessa Redgrave, who my Mum thought was at least 90 when she’s actually just 78, so she’s had a hard life). Turned out Marian married Hugh in the end (really? After all that kerfuffle?)?, and they had a son, even if her grandson is the spitting image of Ted. Hmmfm….
With older and younger Leo (in older Leo’s mind) walking off together, the moral of the story is not to waste your life. You’ve probably wasted five minutes reading this review, so be off with you!
The other moral is that men in 21st Century BBC dramas are allowed to show off their moobs, plus glimpses of their todger, whereas women show little more than their stocking tops. What happened to equality, BBC?!!
Overall, this new adaptation of The Go-Between is undemanding but reasonable Sunday night drama fare – a simple tale well-acted and well-directed whilst looking visually impressive, with a suitably enchanting accompanying score from Christian Henson.
I hadn’t read the book beforehand, but from what I’ve since gleamed, the 90-minute running time has meant a number of side-plots have been left out.
As an aside, Jim Broadbent also starred in the 1971 original The Go-Between. It was his first film role, and also uncredited, as a cricket match spectator. In addition, Vanessa Redgrave’s father, Sir Michael Redgrave, played the older Leo in that film.
Director: Pete Travis
Producer: Claire Bennett
Screenplay: Adrian Hodges (based on the novel by LP Hartley)
Music: Christian Henson
Leo: Jack Hollington
Marian Maudsley: Joanna Vanderham
Ted Burgess: Ben Batt
Trimingham: Stephen Campbell Moore
Older Leo: Jim Broadbent
Mrs Maudsley: Lesley Manville
Denys Maudsley: Jack Cutmore-Scott
Boy Treble: Nicholas Evans
Marcus: Samuel Joslin
Julia: Emily Laing
Butler: Tim McMullan
Station Porter: Tony Pankhurst
Older Marian: Vanessa Redgrave
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.