This is my all-time favourite feel-good, feel-sad, feel-just-pretty-darn-emotional movie. The cast of characters is so alive, you’ll be whisked away in seconds to Britain at war and find yourself hanging on every twist and turn in the tales of three American soldiers who fall in love with local girls as they train for their grim deployment to war-torn Europe.
Richard Gere (An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)) plays Matt Dyson, a GI from Arizona who finds himself dumped in a Lancashire village. He falls for local shop girl Jean Moreton (Lisa Eichhorn) who is inconveniently engaged to her childhood sweetheart Ken, a British soldier away at war. But this looks to be a marriage of comfort and clearly not one of passion.
Matt convinces her (and what girl could fail to remain otherwise when presented with the young Gere on a plate?) to become his girl, helped by the approval of her friend Molly (Wendy Morgan) whose romance with his best buddy Danny (Chick Vennera) is the second of the tales, but hindered by her stern mother (Rachel Roberts).
Meanwhile, up at the manor Helen (Vanessa Redgrave) is providing late-night entertainment to American officer John (William Devane) while her husband is away with the Royal Navy. Their extra-marital relationship nonetheless seems far from seedy amid the bombs, the long absences of loved ones and the dreaded telegrams bringing news of a soldier’s death (eventually the sorry outcome for Ken).
John Schlesinger’s movie is not without its critics, notably of Eichhorn. On the basis of her English-rose looks and poise, she is perfectly cast but her upbringing in America gives an unfortunate, but really barely discernible and occasional twang to her accent. This, and the supposedly shoddy make-up job on her dying mother, is often thrown into reviews but, if that’s the worst that can be said, they fail to mar the entire production.
On a purely romantic level, this is a movie about six people finding the best way they can to deal with the horrors of war but it’s also about the sexual liberation of a generation escaping from a world of stiff, Edwardian values. As Jean pushes Molly through a crowd of wailing ladies, calling for people to let them through because she’s pregnant, one woman retorts: “So’s half the bloody town, love.”