Witty, literate and enigmatic, The Romantic Englishwoman is a film that knows just how to play its cards. With a script by Tom Stoppard and Thomas Wiseman, based on his novel, and late-period direction by Joseph Losey, the film vacillates between comedy and drama, reality and fiction, with a character-driven tale of mistrust and deception at its center.
Elizabeth Fielding (Glenda Jackson) is a bored British housewife who takes a holiday alone in the German spa town of Baden-Baden. While she’s away, her novelist husband Lewis (Michael Caine), envisions her cheating with a random stranger she met in the elevator. Indeed, she did meet someone in the elevator — a gigolo and drug smuggler who calls himself a poet named Thomas (Helmut Berger) — but no impropriety occurred, at least not yet.
Upon her return home, it becomes quickly obvious why she left in the first place, as her and Lewis’s mutual distrust of one another boils to the surface in a series of well-aimed verbal barbs — some of which find their way into the screenplay that Lewis is writing.
After Thomas contacts Lewis, he’s delighted to welcome him into their home as a sort of jab at Elizabeth, and as a source of inspiration for his own screenplay. Thomas, in turn, shows himself to be a shameless mooch, eating their food, philandering with their au pair and generally acting like an ass. Soon, Lewis and Elizabeth are both ready to see him go, but neither will admit it to the other.
As Lewis’s screenplay progresses, he continues to imagine his wife and Thomas carrying on an illicit affair, and the script follows suit. The line between what is real and imagine becomes blurred, and soon, it’s not clear whether real life is influencing the script or the other way around.
The Romantic Englishwoman manages to be both a moody, atmospheric film with some lengthy stretches without dialogue, as well as an effervescent, droll battle of the sexes. Losey’s direction balances the opposing sensibilities with style, using reflective surfaces as a visual motif of the dual nature of the film’s characters.
Caine and Jackson are quite good, allowing both their spoken and unspoken dissatisfaction with one another to show in interesting ways. Thomas throws their tenuous relationship into even further whack with his casually malicious behavior, which Berger plays with a smug charm.
Simply put, The Romantic Englishwoman is a delight, engaging the viewer on multiple levels.
The Blu-ray Disc
The Romantic Englishwoman is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This is another high-def winner from Kino, presenting a transfer with excellent clarity, solid amounts of fine detail and natural colors. Film grain is pleasant and intact, and the image is almost always sharp and stable, save for a few fantasy shots that are deliberately in soft focus. The print used has a few stray marks here and there, but overall, doesn’t show its age.
Audio is presented in an uncompressed monaural track that’s free from any hissing or crackling, and presents voices and effects in an adequate, clean manner.
All we get is a collection of four trailers for other Kino releases, but not this one, and a gallery of production stills.
The Bottom Line
An unexpected delight, The Romantic Englishwoman has something for fans of drama, comedy, reality-bending films and sharp performances, and it looks excellent on Blu-ray.