American Film Theatre’s latest release for the first time on DVD, comes what could be the series’ most compelling instalment, The Homecoming directed by Peter Hall, based on his own original stage version of Harold Pinter’s play.
The story takes place solely within the dreary walls of a house in London during the seventies. Young and successful doctor of philosophy, Teddy (Jayston) returns home to his patriarchal family with his bride, Ruth (Merchant). Upon their arrival, they soon find themselves challenged and verbally attacked by the numerous members of the household, headed by the father, Max (Rogers). The heated and underhanded bickering continues until Teddy decides to cut his visit short, but Ruth and Teddy’s nearest and dearest have different ideas.
The idea of the American Film theatre was to, evidently, merge the traditional spectacle of the theatre with the more popular and public friendly cinema, and The Homecoming is testimony to the concepts’ success. Peter Hall has captured the powerful performances and intense dialogue with the camera lens equally as well as he may have done originally for the stage, and the result is like witnessing the production on its opening night, front row centre.
The direction remains predominantly low-key to say the least. Whereas other stage plays adapted for film have endeavoured to apply various cinematic devices to increase or emphasise dramatic effect, Hall has opted for, principally, a static unobtrusive approach enabling the most important aspects of the play to take command, namely the performances and the dialogue. There are one or two moments when it becomes apparent that one is watching a film rather than a play however, where the camera takes the point of view of certain characters, thus introducing the odd shaky camera shot, and also utilizing the camera to portray such humanistic qualities as blinking. Although these discrepancies fail to add any weight or impact to the production, on the whole, The Homecoming is very much a character study, and Hall allows the performances and Pinter’s dialogue to take centre stage.
The performances are all top-notch, from Rogers’ Alf Garnet like catalyst of hate and venom, the detached, meticulous Jayston and the imperturbable yet prevailing Merchant, to Holme’s remarkable portrayal of the unctuous and menacing Lenny.
Pinter’s favourite themes and motifs are all here; awkward silences, sexual desire, obsession, family loathing and the every day matter of fact dialogue. As well as satisfying the thespian enthusiast and Pinter devotee, The Homecoming also manages to become a taut and memorable piece of Post War British cinema, and is essential viewing for any cinephile.