Director William Wyler left a trail of wonderful films for us to enjoy in his wake, working between 1925 and 1970. Some of them, those light and fluffy 1960’s RomComs enthralling the world with the talents of Audrey Hepburn (Roman Holiday, How to Steal a Million, Children’s Hour), others epic works (such as Ben-Hur) and much more between often including the stars of the day. Do check out his biography. This little thriller sits in the middle somewhere and has a real Hitchcockian feel.

The story, written by John Fowles in 1965, is about a downtrodden young man called Freddie Clegg from Reading, from a working class background who has a dull life, is pretty dull, works in a dull job and lives an isolated existence collecting butterflies. We’re not really given too much of the background but it’s clear that he has been denied opportunity because of his social class and upbringing - and has been personally ridiculed socially by those around him. Anyway, one day he wins a fortune on the pools and suddenly has money to inject into his life.

He starts to spend time out in London in amongst the liberated 1960’s scene and tracks down Miranda Grey, who he used to know in Reading and is now an art student in The Smoke. She’s from a monied background and can afford to pursue art as a career and not have to worry about where the next meal is coming from. And this culture clash is a central part of the theme of the story, according to Fowles.

He becomes a voyeur into her world. Follows her. Spies on her. Checks out what she does, where she goes and with whom. He becomes obsessed with wanting her to be a part of his life, but knows that even though he has money, she would not give him a second look because of the social divide. So he hatches a plan to kidnap her. After stalking her relentlessly in his van, much like Jame Gumb in Silence of the Lambs, he snatches her, whisks her away to his house, ensnares her in his cellar and treats her like a princess. After all, he only wants to be given a chance for her to get to know him as a person and to learn to love him, as he knew it wasn’t going to happen out there in real life.

The young Terence Stamp plays Freddie in a beautifully menacing way. He is dark and sinister but delivery of his position ensures that the audience, to some degree, feels sorry for him and in sweeping changes in his approach from scene to scene, leap between sympathy and revulsion. It’s a brilliantly executed performance alongside the rich girl Miranda, played by Samantha Eggar for which she was nominated for an Oscar. (The actress seemed to drift into American TV shows after her scrumptious role as Emma Fairfax in Dr Dolittle). She does indeed play it out very well, expressing convincingly the emotions sweeping around her as shock turns to disbelief, acceptance, anger, rationality and overwhelming frustration.

The rest of the story is about the game which is played in the cellar, with a real feel of Sleuth, the 1972 film starring Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier. The cut and thrust of strategy, the conversations about class and acceptance, the negotiation between captor and detainee and the resulting action and outcome, which I won’t spoil for you!

The sets are wonderful for someone of my age, being just old enough to remember seeing old-style red double-decker buses, Morris Minors, Commer vans and the fashions and style of the 1960’s. The cellar is suitably claustrophobic and countryside typically English.

It’s a well executed thriller which I highly recommend. The acting doesn’t feel for one minute like it’s wooden and dated, it’s a sinister, dark and gripping story in which people act insanely, given a horrific situation to deal with and survival, on both sides, to negotiate. Currently available on Netflix UK.
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