“It’s Mother Time” – Rediscovering ‘Our Mother’s House’ (GB 1967 – 104 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - December 03, 2013
“It’s Mother Time” – Rediscovering ‘Our Mother’s House’ (GB 1967 – 104 mins)

A wonderfully dark drama, with sinister undertones, Jack Clayton’s magnificent 1967 film ‘Our Mother’s House’ is a gem of British film-making in the late Sixties.

Adapted from the novel by Julian Gloag, the story is simple, yet gripping to the end. After their mother dies, and with the dread of being sent to an Orphanage, the seven Hook children lay her to rest in the bottom of the garden, where they then continue life as normal. All goes well until their no-good father Charlie appears, whom none of the children have ever met. Things muddle on, until one night, Charlie finally breaks and reveals a few vicious home truths.

‘Our Mother’s House’ was the fourth of only seven films directed by the largely forgotten, yet hugely talented Jack Clayton. Clayton was a bit of a master at directing children, having done it so naturally in his earlier movies ‘The Innocents’ (1961), ‘The Pumpkin Eater’ (1964), and much later with Disney’s ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ (1983). Clayton’s first movie was the Oscar winning adult drama ‘Room at the Top’, which won its star Simone Signoret an Academy Award. Following ‘Our Mother’s House’, he did not direct again until 1973’s ‘The Great Gatsby’. After his final movie in 1987 (‘The lonely Passion of Judith Hearne’), and a television movie in 1992 (‘Memento Mori’), both with Maggie Smith, Clayton retired, and died three years later at the age of 73.

The entire cast of child actors are terrific. Ten year old Phoebe Nicholls is a revelation as the youngest sister, Gerty, while nine year old Mark Lester makes an early film appearance as Jiminee, a year before finding fame in Carol Reed’s ‘Oliver!’ (1968). The standout here though is Seventeen year old Pamela Franklin, who is emotionally gripping as Diana. Franklin had made a startling debut when she was just eleven, in Clayton’s 1961 ghost story ‘The Innocents’, and after neat turns in the mystery thriller ‘The Third Secret’ (1964) and Hammer’s ‘The Nanny’ (1965), she gave a terrific performance in 1969’s ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’, opposite Maggie Smith. Pamela made some good genre pictures in the Seventies, with the tense 1970 thriller ‘And Soon the Darkness’, and John Hough’s genuinely chilling ‘The Legend of Hell House’ (1973), standing out.  Settling down to married life, Pamela retired from acting in 1981, and currently resides in California with her family.

Forty six year old Dirk Bogarde is excellent in a complete change of pace role. Bogarde plays Charlie with relish, ridding himself completely of his early screen idol persona. The supporting cast is rounded off by Yootha Joyce as the Hook’s prying cleaner, Anthony Nicholls as a kindly neighbour, and glamorous Edina Ronay as one of Charlie’s one-night stands. The final scene, in which the children confront a drunken Charlie, is superbly staged, and at times frightening, as secrets are revealed and tempers boil over, leaving only one resolution.

The marvellous score was by prolific French composer Georges Delerue, and is perhaps my favourite soundtrack from a British movie, being at once both childlike and sinister. Delerue would go on to win an Oscar for his score for the 1979 romantic drama ‘A Little Romance’.

One of the best depictions of childhood and innocence lost, ‘Our Mother’s House’ is an engaging delight, with great performances, a stunning music score, and masterful direction from one of cinema’s greatest directors.

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