Thursday, April 18, 2024

Take a Girl Like You (1970)

Take a Girl Like You, based on Kingsley Amis’s famous novel of the same name, was directed by Jonathan Miller. It came out in 1970.

Jenny Bunn (Hayley Mills) is a young school teacher from the north of England where she has had an upbringing of a very traditional nature. She moves into the home of local politician Dick Thompson (John Bird) and his wife Martha (Sheila Hancock). They have two female lodgers, the other being Anna (Geraldine Sherman).

It’s not long before Jenny meets Patrick Standish (Oliver Reed), a lecturer in the local technical college. Patrick is a notorious ladies’ man. Anna was one of his previous conquests. He intends to make Jenny his next conquest.

There should be no problem. Jenny obviously likes him. The chemistry is there between them. There is however an impediment. Jenny is a virgin. She’s not just a virgin. For Jenny it’s not so much a choice as a vocation. No amount of persuasion will change her mind. She can’t really explain why she’s so determined.

It’s all rather exasperating to Patrick. On the other hand, despite his womanising, he’s a basically decent guy. He certainly has no desire to force himself on an unwilling woman. He’ll use plenty of plausible persuasion but he’s not a man to take things any further.

Patrick and Jenny make the acquaintance of Julian Ormerod (Noel Harrison), a very rich very idle upper-class chap who lives in a palatial home and devotes himself to pleasure. Being very rich and very upper-class he is of course a socialist (there is some gentle satire in both Amis’s novel and the film).

Patrick is also introduced to Julian’s current mistress, Wendy (Aimi MacDonald), a ditzy blonde minor TV personality with no sexual inhibitions at all. Wendy thinks Patrick is rather a dish.

Jenny won’t sleep with Patrick but she certainly doesn’t intend to let another woman have him. Jenny is kind of sort of in love with Patrick although she’s reluctant to admit it to herself.

Patrick lays siege to Jenny’s fiercely defended virginity. They have no idea that they might actually fall in love but of course they do, and they both end up having to rethink their attitudes towards both sex and love.

You do have to remember that Kingsley Amis’s novel was written in 1960. The Sexual Revolution had not yet gathered any momentum at all. By 1970 it was in full swing. So by 1970 Jenny’s obsession with virginity would have seemed perhaps less plausible than would have been the case a decade earlier.

At this stage the career of Hayley Mills was thriving and she seemed to be making a very successful transition to grown-up roles. Sadly, as the 70s progressed her career lost momentum. She was always equally adept at serious and comic roles and she’s excellent in this movie, managing to avoid making Jenny seem too prissy or too much of a calculating tease. Whether or not we agree with Jenny’s obsessive defence of her virtue we can’t help liking her.

This is a slightly unusual role for Oliver Reed but he did have a greater range as an actor than he’s usually given credit for, and he could project a great deal of charm. Like Hayley Mills he has a slightly tricky role here. Patrick is a bit of a lad but despite his inveterate womanising he has a certain basic decency. Reed is likeable and amusing here.

Noel Harrison was a very underrated actor and gives a typically charming performance as Julian, a thoroughly pleasant man with no morals whatsoever.

Sheila Hancock is also somewhat underrated and she’s very good as well. Aimi MacDonald is amusing as the vapid Wendy. The whole cast is good. Look out for Penelope Keith in a very small very early role.

All of the characters have some depth. Their motivations and emotions are often beset with contradictions and they don’t always understand their own feelings.

This was the only feature film directed by Jonathan Miller, an extraordinary figure in the late 20th century British cultural scene - he directed plays and operas, he was a writer and TV presenter and a humourist.

Take a Girl Like You is not a conventional romantic comedy but it is a comedy about romance. It’s not a sex comedy but it is a comedy about sex. While the British at that time certainly had a taste for broad comedy Take a Girl Like You is very different - it’s witty and sophisticated.

This was a time when British film-makers were starting to explore a topic that had always terrified them - sex. There was a keen desire to make movies that took an honest grown-up approach to the subject. The absurdly strict British film censorship was finally starting to loosen up just a little. Towards the close of the 60s there were countless British films tackling this subject, some of them doing so with surprising success. There were also quite a few British coming-of-age movies made around this time. In fact Hayley Mills had starred in one of the best of these, Sky West and Crooked, in 1966. The better British movies of this era dealing with sex include Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1968), Baby Love (1969), I Start Counting (1969), Cool It, Carol! (1970), Age of Consent (1969), All the Right Noises (1970)

Take a Girl Like You is an offbeat mix but it has an infectious and enjoyable quirkiness. There is real chemistry between Hayley Mills and Oliver Reed which helps a great deal. Highly recommended.

The Powerhouse Indicator Blu-Ray presentation is excellent. There are a few extras including an interview with Hayley Mills (interestingly enough she has fond memories of working with Oliver Reed).

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