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Family Fury

Intimate Relations
Sally Miles

The Artful Lodger: Rupert Graves takes a room and a whole lot more when he moves in with Julie Walters in 'Intimate Relations.'

'Intimate Relations' mixes cold sarcasm with heated emotions

By Rob Nelson

LIKE PETER JACKSON'S Heavenly Creatures, the new British drama Intimate Relations offers a compellingly perverse spin on a true story of twisted family relations leading to murder in a '50s-era small town. First-time writer and director Philip Goodhew takes his basic approach from newspaper reports and classic film noir--bored housewife trysts with a lodger behind the back of her boring old husband--and adds all manner of cold sarcasm, camp humor and familial horror. It's an outrageous, at times nasty, piece of work, humanized somewhat by a cast that isn't afraid to brea down and act up.

Julie Walters plays the bored housewife, Marjorie Beasley, as a middle-aged Englishwoman whose prim and proper manner barely conceals both despair and a ravenous sexual appetite. She and her older husband, Stanley (Matthew Walker), a machine operator who lost a leg in WWI, maintain separate bedrooms "for medical purposes"--which is her polite way of saying that she can't stand to be near him. Working part time in a laundromat, Marjorie jumps at the chance to take in a young lodger--Harold Guppy (Rupert Graves), a handsome man with a self-described violent temper--and then wastes little time jumping into his bed and literally begging him for love.

Goodhew accentuates this sexual farce with some odd stylistic flourishes. During a debauched game of spin the bottle at a birthday party for Marjorie's 14-year-old daughter, Joyce (Laura Sadler), the camera takes the dizzy point of view of the bottle as it points to the lodger and "Mum," sealing their fate. And after these two begin a nightly routine of pawing at each other like barn animals, the director gets a palpable kick out of revealing that precocious Joyce is lying alongside them in bed--with one eye open. Turns out she has a thing for the lodger, too. This love triangle gradually forms a noose around Harold's neck, as both mother and daughter turn to sexual blackmail in order to keep him around.

Despite Harold's longing to be part of a family, Intimate Relations makes it clear that he is neither a victim nor a saint. And as this guy becomes increasingly scruffy and antagonistic, Graves shows off an impressive range. The film's own progression from light to dark isn't nearly so smooth. Goodhew's early precedent of one-upping each over-the-top bit of black-comic sleaze becomes a tall order, especially as the characters get down to some truly dirty business. Still, there's nothing funny about the grisly denouement that ironically made this "family" story an appealing film property.

Intimate Relations (R; 105 min.), directed and written by Philip Goodhew, photographed by Andres Garreton and starring Julie Walters and Rupert Graves.

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