The Go-Between (1971 film)

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The Go-Between
Original British quad format poster
Directed byJoseph Losey
Screenplay byHarold Pinter
Based onThe Go-Between
by L. P. Hartley
Produced byJohn Heyman
Denis Johnson
Norman Priggen
StarringJulie Christie
Alan Bates
Margaret Leighton
Edward Fox
Dominic Guard
CinematographyGerry Fisher
Edited byReginald Beck
Music byMichel Legrand
Color processTechnicolor
Distributed byMGM-EMI Film Distributors
Release dates
  • 23 September 1971 (1971-09-23) (London)
  • 1 October 1971 (1971-10-01) (UK)
Running time
116 minutes[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom

The Go-Between is a 1971[4] British period drama film directed by Joseph Losey. Its screenplay by Harold Pinter is an adaptation of the 1953 novel The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley. The film stars Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Margaret Leighton, Michael Redgrave and Dominic Guard. It won the Palme d'Or at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival.[5][6]


The story follows a young boy named Leo Colston, who in the year 1900, is a guest of Marcus Maudsley, his wealthy school friend, as Leo spend the summer holidays at his family's Norfolk country house. While there, Marcus becomes sick, and he is quarantined with the measles. Left to entertain himself, Leo befriends Marcus's beautiful elder sister Marian Maudsley, and finds himself a messenger, carrying messages between her and Ted Burgess, a tenant farmer, with whom she is engaging in a clandestine affair.

Marian's parents, however, want her to marry Hugh, Viscount Trimingham, the estate owner, who also is courting Marian. A heat wave leading to a thunderstorm coincides with Leo's thirteenth birthday party and the film's climax when Marian's mother Madeleine forces Leo to take her to Marian, and they find her making love to Burgess in a farm building. This event has a long-lasting impact on Leo after Burgess shoots and kills himself in his farmhouse kitchen.

More than 50 years later, Marian, now the Dowager Lady Trimingham, sends for Leo, wanting him to speak to her grandson to assure him that she did truly love Burgess. She asks Leo whether her grandson reminds him of anyone, and he replies "Yes. Ted Burgess".

Main cast[edit]



The rights to the novel had been in the hands of many producers, including Anthony Asquith. Then Sir Alexander Korda purchased it in 1956. He envisioned Alec Guinness and Margaret Leighton in the leads and employed Nancy Mitford to write a script.[7][8] Hartley later said Korda had no intention to make a film of the book; he kept the rights hoping to re-sell them at a profit. Hartley says "I was so annoyed when I heard of this that I put a curse on him and he died, almost the next morning."[8]

Joseph Losey was interested in filming the novel. He tried to get financing for a version in 1963 after filming The Servant and said Pinter had written "two-thirds of a script,[8][9] but could not find the money to make the film either then or at a second attempt in 1968.[7]

"The company had cold feet about the story", said Losey. "It was too tame for the pornographic age. As one man put it, who would be interested in a bit of Edwardian nostalgia? That's idiotic. It is certainly not a romantic or sentimental piece. It has a surface and a coating of romantic melodrama, but it has a bitter core."[7]

Losey said he was attracted to the novel because it was about "the terrible sense of shortness of any human life, the sense of totality of life."[10]

Pinter's screenplay for the film was his final collaboration with Losey, following The Servant (1963), Modesty Blaise (1966) and Accident (1967). It is largely faithful to the novel, but it alludes to the novel's opening events in dialogue, in which Leo is admired by other boys at his school as they believe he used black magic to punish two bullies, and it moves events described in the novel's epilogue into the central narrative.[8]

Losey later said he was glad he and Pinter did not make the film until after Accident because that film encouraged them to play around with time in storytelling.[7]


Eventually John Heyman managed to get financing from EMI Films, where Bryan Forbes agreed to pay £75,000 for the script.[11]

Because of the relatively steep budget, EMI had to seek co-production financing from MGM. Losey budgeted the film for $2.4 million but had to make it for $1.2 million; he did this by cutting the shooting schedule by a month and working for a percentage of the profits instead of a fee.[12][7][13]

In July 1970, MGM-EMI announced it would make the film as part of four co-productions; the others were Get Carter, The Boy Friend and The Last Run directed by John Boorman.[14] Of these ideas, only the last was not made into a movie.


Filming started in August 1970.[15] The film was shot at Melton Constable Hall, Heydon and Norwich in Norfolk.[16] Filming wound up in November.[17]

Pinter was on set during filming.[8] Losey said the making of the film was one of the happier in his career.[7] Dominic Guard struggled with a stammer that made his delivering his lines impossible at times and that caused him to develop nervous tics. Losey dealt with this problem by coaching Guard and telling him he had faith in him, but in "a rather brutal way" by telling him to stop whenever Guard was using a tic or stammer.[18]


Richard Rodney Bennett was announced as the composer.[19] However Michel Legrand did the soundtrack for the film. The main theme later was used as the title music for the French "true crime" documentary series Faites entrer l'accusé (in French Wikipedia).[20] The love theme "I Still See You" written by Legrand with lyrics by Hal Sharper was performed by Scott Walker and released as a single in late 1971.


The film was first shown in May 1971 at the Cannes Film Festival, and it won the Grand Prix International du Festival.[21] A few days before, James Aubrey, head of MGM, disliked the final film and regarded it a flop.[22]

The film was released in the UK on 24 September 1971, opening at ABC1 on Shaftesbury Avenue in London.[4] A month later, on 29 October, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother arrived at the ABC Cinema on Prince of Wales Road in Norwich to attend the local premiere, thus giving Norwich its first royal premiere.[23]

EMI sold this movie and Tales of Beatrix Potter to China for release at $16,000 each. They were the first western films to be released in China for two decades.[24]

The inaugural screening of a new restoration of the film released by StudioCanal UK took place at Cinema City, Norwich on 11 September 2019.

Box office[edit]

By August 1971, Nat Cohen stated the film had already been "contracted" for $1 million[25] The film was one of the most popular movies of 1972 at the British box office.[26] By September 1972, James Aubrey of MGM said the film lost Columbia $200,000, and he insisted that selling the film had been the right move.[27] In 1973 Losey said the film was still not in profit.[28]

According to a biography of Losey, after 18 months of release, the net takings in the UK were £232,249. At 1 July 1972, Columbia's territories had earned $2,198,382, including $1,581,972 in the U.S. and Canada. Ten years after its premiere. the film had earned £290,888 from UK cinemas and TV, £204,566 from overseas sales (excluding the U.S.), £96,599 from the British Film Fund, and Columbia's gross receipts in the U.S., Canada and France were £1,375,300. Losey's personal percentage of film's box office was £39,355. So in the end, the film was quite profitable.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

Charles Champlin in the Los Angeles Times wrote after the US premiere in November 1971 that The Go-Between was one of the best films of the previous six years. Andrew Sarris in the The Village Voice labelled it the best film of the year.[29] Writing in 1985, Joanne Klein saw the filmscript "as a major stylistic and technical advance in Pinter’s work for the screen", and Foster Hirsch described it as "one of the world’s great films" in 1980.[30] In 2009, Emanuel Levy called the film "Losey's masterpiece".[31]


For many involved, it was praised as the peak of their careers. Leighton earned her only Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the film. In 1999, it was included on the British Film Institute's list of its 100 best British films. It was one of the most successful films from Bryan Forbes' time at EMI.[32]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Academy Awards 10 April 1972 Best Supporting Actress Margaret Leighton Nominated [33]
British Academy Film Awards 1972 Best Film Nominated [34]
Best Direction Joseph Losey Nominated
Best Screenplay Harold Pinter Won
Best Actress Julie Christie Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Margaret Leighton Won
Best Supporting Actor Edward Fox Won
Michael Gough Nominated
Best Cinematography Gerry Fisher Nominated
Best Art Direction Carmen Dillon Nominated
Best Costume Design John Furniss Nominated
Best Soundtrack Garth Craven, Peter Handford, Hugh Strain Nominated
Most Promising Newcomer Dominic Guard Won
Cannes Film Festival 2 – 27 May 1971 Grand Prix International du Festival Joseph Losey Won [21]
Golden Globe Awards 6 February 1972 Best Foreign Film, English Language Nominated [35]
Writers' Guild of Great Britain 17 February 1972 Best British Screenplay Harold Pinter Won [36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ BBFC: The Go-Between Linked 2014-01-11
  2. ^ a b Caute p 277
  3. ^ Chapman, J. (2022). The Money Behind the Screen: A History of British Film Finance, 1945-1985. Edinburgh University Press p 361 gives the final cost as £468,098
  4. ^ a b The Times, 24 September 1971, page 9: The shadows of a country-house summer (film review by John Russell Taylor) - Read 2014-01-11 in The Times Digital Archive
  5. ^ "A brief history of the Palme d'or". Archived from the original on 26 May 2018. Retrieved 28 May 2017.
  6. ^ Moody, Paul (2018). EMI Films and the Limits of British Cinema. Palgrave MacMillan. pp. 59–66.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Gussow, Mel (11 August 1971). "Losey Revels in Happy 'Go-Between'". The New York Times. p. 44.
  8. ^ a b c d e "Take three on the go-between". The Guardian. 16 March 1971. p. 8.
  9. ^ "VIEW FROM A LOCAL VANTAGE POINT". The New York Times. 16 February 1964. p. X7.
  10. ^ "Director proves them all wrong", The Irish Times, 7 August 1971: 8.
  11. ^ Bryan Forbes: A Divided Life – Memoirs (page 100)
  12. ^ Walker, Alexander (1974). Hollywood UK – The British Film Industry in the Sixties. Stein and Day. p. 439. ISBN 978-0-812-81549-8.
  13. ^ HOLLYWOOD EXILE: AN INTERVIEW WITH JOSEPH LOSEY Phillips, Gene D. Journal of Popular Film; Washington, D.C. Vol. 5, Iss. 1, (1 Jan 1976): 29.
  14. ^ Spectrum of Interest: Film Notes By Gary Arnold. The Washington Post and Times-Herald 15 July 1970: B5.
  15. ^ Michele Carey Signs for 'Scandalous' Role Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times 31 August 1970: c17.
  16. ^ The Go-Between: EMI Films 1970 at Norwich the old city.
  17. ^ Time to Go for 'Go-Between' Cast Blume, Mary. Los Angeles Times 15 November 1970: v31.
  18. ^ StudiocanalUK (8 September 2020). THE GO-BETWEEN - Interview with Dominic Guard. Archived from the original on 13 December 2021. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
  19. ^ MOVIE CALL SHEET Los Angeles Times 6 Oct 1970: d15.
  20. ^ Compare the movie's main theme on YouTube with the one for the French crime series on YouTube.
  21. ^ a b "THE GO-BETWEEN". Cannes Film Festival. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  22. ^ Bryan Forbes: A Divided Life – Memoirs (page 221)
  23. ^ East Anglian Film Archive: Anglia News: Queen Mother at Premiere of 'The Go-Between' at ABC Norwich Linked 2014-01-11. At the royal screening, both Harold Pinter and L. P. Hartley were presented to HM the Queen Mother by Bernard Delfont. See Hartop, p. 62 and illus. p. 63.
  24. ^ EMI of Britain Sells Red China Two Movies For Release to Public: Films Will Be First From West to Receive Wide Exposure There in Over Two Decades Wall Street Journal 13 January 1972: 17.
  25. ^ NAT COHEN. "British film finance." The Times [London, England] 20 August 1971: 13. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 6 April 2014.
  26. ^ Harper, Sue (2011). British Film Culture in the 1970s: The Boundaries of Pleasure: The Boundaries of Pleasure. Edinburgh University Press. p. 270. ISBN 9780748654260.
  27. ^ Kasindorf, Martin (10 September 1972). "How now, Dick Daring?". The New York Times. p. SM54.
  28. ^ "Losey on 'broken promises'". The Guardian. 1 August 1973. p. 6.
  29. ^ Sarris, Andrew (12 August 1971). "The Go-Between". The Village Voice.
  30. ^ As cited in Hudgins, Christopher C. (11 June 2008). "Harold Pinter's The Go-Between: The Courage To Be". Cycnos. 14 (1). See also Hirsch, Foster (1980). Joseph Losey. Twayne. p. 136. ISBN 9780805792577. OCLC 6277858. and Klein, Joanne (1985). Making pictures : the Pinter screenplays. Ohio State University Press. p. 102. ISBN 9780814204009. OCLC 11676189.
  31. ^ Levy, Emanuel (13 November 2009). "Go-Between (1971): Losey's Masterpiece Starring Julie Christie and Alan Bates".
  32. ^ Vagg, Stephen (10 October 2021). "Cold Streaks: The Studio Stewardship of Bryan Forbes at EMI". Filmink.
  33. ^ "THE 44TH ACADEMY AWARDS". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  34. ^ "Film in 1972". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  35. ^ "Go-Between, The". Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  36. ^ "WRITERS' GUILD AWARDS 1971". Writers' Guild of Great Britain. Retrieved 17 June 2017.

Further reading[edit]

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