Picks and Pans Review: Wetherby

updated 08/05/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/05/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Things are not what they seem in this quietly devastating meditation on British repression from playwright David (Plenty) Hare, in an impressive film debut as screenwriter and director. As the film opens, Vanessa Redgrave, as a schoolteacher in a middle-class Yorkshire town, is acting the perfect dinner hostess to a handful of friends in her cottage. Among the guests is a crasher, young Tim Mclnnerny. Redgrave and her guests all assume he is an invited extra. This being Britain, no one presumes to pry. They should have, for when the young man returns to confront Redgrave alone the next day, he brings a gun. The ensuing violence leads to the uncovering of a secret full of menace. At times, Hare's film evokes Harold Pinter too overtly, but Hare hasn't merely filmed a play. The movie exerts a real pull as a police detective, Stuart (The Jewel in the Crown) Wilson, interrogates the parties involved, including a neighboring couple, expertly played by the English stage actors Ian Holm and Judi Dench, and Mclnnerny's girlfriend, icily done by Suzanna (1984) Hamilton. The key to the mystery lies with Redgrave and a long-ago affair shown in flashback. In these scenes the young Redgrave is portrayed by her daughter, Joely Richardson, who shows every sign of a stunning future. Redgrave, as ever, is luminous-finding just the right gesture and nuance to lay a character bare. Another Oscar nomination seems assured. Literate, provocative and disturbing, Wetherby strikes like a bolt of lightning. (R)

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