In previous books, the writer and academic Steven Peacock has demonstrated a clarity of thought and intelligence that signally illuminates his chosen subjects; his volume on the use of (and psychological significance of) colour in selected Hollywood films was coruscating in its insight and ambition. In Hollywood and Intimacy (curiously subtitled Style, Moments, Magnificence), Peacock’s subject is the nature of close relationships as addressed in a variety of American movies. These include Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence, the undervalued The Bridges of Madison County (directed by Clint Eastwood, who transformed a literary pot-boiler) and Michael Mann’s stylish and complex The Insider. What is perhaps most remarkable about Peacock’s study is the sheer density of argument packed into the 170 or so pages, with the various discrete elements of popular American cinema forensically examined as they are used to illuminate the emotional complexities of human relationships.

Peacock’s analysis suggests a rigour of motive and invention on the part of the various directors that Clint Eastwood and David Lynch (say) may query, but which has rarely been addressed in film writing before. Whether or not the filmmakers cited here would concur with Peacock’s findings is immaterial; as Lawrence said, ‘never trust the artist — trust the tale’.

To describe the approach of the writer to the interplay of character and landscape as innovatory barely does it justice; in the modern arena of film scholarship, Peacock is clearly an evolutionary sport. If one has a caveat, it relates only to the fact that the writer has focused his attention on such a relatively small corpus of work. The critic Ralph Gleason once said of Frank Sinatra that he would be happy for the singer to record every single entry in the great American songbook; one might paraphrase Gleason and wish that Peacock similarly had but world enough and time to write in such illuminating detail about every worthwhile (and some not so worthwhile) Hollywood movies. We would be the richer for it.