The Go-Between (1971 film)

The Go-Between

Original British quad format poster
Directed by Joseph Losey
Produced by John Heyman
Denis Johnson
Norman Priggen
Screenplay by Harold Pinter
Based on The Go-Between
by L. P. Hartley
Starring Julie Christie
Alan Bates
Margaret Leighton
Edward Fox
Dominic Guard
Music by Michel Legrand
Cinematography Gerry Fisher
Edited by Reginald Beck
Distributed by MGM-EMI Distributors (UK)
Columbia Pictures (US)
Release dates
  • 24 September 1971 (1971-09-24) (UK[1])
  • 13 November 1971 (1971-11-13) (US)
Running time
116 minutes[2]
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Budget £500,000[3] or under $1 million[4]

The Go-Between is a 1971[1] British romantic drama film, directed by Joseph Losey. Its screenplay, by Harold Pinter, is an adaptation of the 1953 novel The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley. The film stars Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Margaret Leighton, Michael Redgrave and Dominic Guard. It won the Palme d'Or at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival.


The story follows a young boy named Leo Colston (Dominic Guard), who in the year 1900 is a guest of his wealthy school friend, Marcus Maudsley (Richard Gibson), to spend the summer holidays at his family's Norfolk country house. While there, Marcus is taken sick and quarantined with the measles. Left to entertain himself, Leo befriends Marcus's beautiful elder sister Marion Maudsley (Julie Christie), and finds himself a messenger, carrying messages between her and a tenant farmer neighbor, Ted Burgess (Alan Bates), with whom she is engaging in a secret illicit affair.

Her parents, however want to engage her to Hugh, Viscount Trimingham (played by Edward Fox) the estate owner. A heatwave leading to a thunderstorm coincides with Leo's birthday party and the film's climax, when Marion's mother and Leo, in search for Marion, find her making love with Burgess in a farm building. This event has a long-lasting impact on Leo after Burgess shoots himself in his farmhouse kitchen.

More than fifty years later, Marion, now the Dowager Lady Trimingham, sends for Leo, wanting him to speak to her grandson to assure him that she had truly loved Burgess. She asks Leo whether her grandson reminds him of anyone, and he replies "Yes. Ted Burgess".

Michael Redgrave plays Leo in old age.

Pinter's screenplay for the film was his final collaboration with Losey, following The Servant (1963) and Accident (1967). It is largely faithful to the novel, although it alludes to the novel's opening events in dialogue where Leo is held in admiration by the students due to their belief he caused injury to two bullies through black magic and incorporates events described in the novel's epilogue within the central narrative.

Main cast


The rights to the novel had been in the hands of many producers, among them Sir Alex Korda, who purchased it in 1956. He originally envisaged Alec Guinness and Margaret Leighton in the leads and employed Nancy Mitford to write a script.[4]

Joseph Losey was interested in filming the novel. He tried to get financing for a version in 1963 after The Servant and then again in 1968.[4]

Eventually John Heyman managed to get financing from EMI Films, where Bryan Forbes agreed to pay £75,000 for the script.[5] Because of the relatively steep budget, EMI had to seek co-production financing from MGM.

The film was shot at Melton Constable Hall, Heydon and Norwich in Norfolk.[6] The art director was Carmen Dillon.


Michel Legrand composed the soundtrack for the film. The main theme was later used as the title music for the French "true crime" documentary series Faites entrer l'accusé (in French Wikipedia).[7] The love theme "I Still See You" written by Legrand with lyrics by Hal Sharper was performed by Scott Walker and released as a single in late 1971.


The film was first shown in May 1971 at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Palme d'Or.[8] A few days before, James Aubrey, head of MGM, had sold his interest in it to Columbia Pictures, because he disliked the final film and regarded it a flop.[9]

The film was released in the UK on 24 September 1971, opening at ABC1 on Shaftesbury Avenue in London.[1] A month later, on 29 October, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother arrived at the ABC Cinema on Prince of Wales Road in Norwich to attend the local premiere, thus giving Norwich its first ever Royal Premiere.[10]

Box office

By August 1971 Nat Cohen stated the film had already been "contracted" for a million dollars.[11]

However by September 1972 James Aubrey of MGM said the film recorded an overall loss of $200,000.[12]

Critical reception

An enthusiastic John Russell Taylor wrote in The Times that, "Up to now, Accident was without argument Losey's best film; now in The Go-Between it has a serious contender for the title. And everything is achieved by apparently doing the absolute minimum."[1] Charles Champlain in the Los Angeles Times wrote after the US premiere in November 1971 that The Go-Between was one of the best films of the previous six years. Andrew Sarris in the Village Voice labelled it the best film of the year.[13] Writing in 1985, Joanne Klein saw the filmscript "as a major stylistic and technical advance in Pinter’s work for the screen", and Foster Hirsch described it as “one of the world’s great films” in 1980.[14] In 2009, Emanuel Levy called the film "Losey's Masterpiece".[15]


For many involved it was praised as the peak of their careers. Leighton earned her first and only Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the film.

In 1999, it was included on the British Film Institute's list of its 100 best British films. At the BAFTA festival it was nominated in no less than 12 categories, winning four; Screenplay: Harold Pinter (his second BAFTA), Edward Fox (Supporting actor), Dominic Guard (Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles), Supporting actress: Margaret Leighton (her second nomination and her only win), which makes it one of the most successful in the history of the competition.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 The Times, 24 September 1971, page 9: The shadows of a country-house summer (film review by John Russell Taylor) - Read 2014-01-11 in The Times Digital Archive
  2. BBFC: The Go-Between Linked 2014-01-11
  3. Walker, Alexander (1974). Hollywood UK  The British Film Industry in the Sixties. Stein and Day. p. 439. ISBN 978-0-812-81549-8.
  4. 1 2 3 Losey Revels in Happy 'Go-Between' By MEL GUSSOW. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 11 Aug 1971: 44.
  5. Bryan Forbes: A Divided Life – Memoirs (page 100)
  6. The Go-Between: EMI Films 1970 at Norwich the old city.
  7. Compare the movie's main theme on YouTube with the one for the French crime series on YouTube.
  8. Festival de Cannes: The Go-Between (Le Messager), Grand Prix International du Festival, 1971 Linked 2014-01-11
  9. Bryan Forbes: A Divided Life – Memoirs (page 221)
  10. East Anglian Film Archive: Anglia News: Queen Mother at Premiere of 'The Go-Between' at ABC Norwich Linked 2014-01-11
  11. NAT COHEN. "British film finance." The Times [London, England] 20 Aug. 1971: 13. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
  12. How now, Dick Daring? By Martin Kasindorf. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 10 Sep 1972: SM54.
  13. Sarris, Andrew (12 August 1971). "The Go-Between". Village Voice.
  14. As cited in Hudgins, Christopher C. (11 June 2008). "Harold Pinter's The Go-Between: The Courage To Be". Cycnos. 14 (1). See also Hirsch, Foster (1980). Joseph Losey. Twayne. p. 136. ISBN 9780805792577. OCLC 6277858. and Klein, Joanne (1985). Making pictures : the Pinter screenplays. Ohio State University Press. p. 102. ISBN 9780814204009. OCLC 11676189.
  15. Levy, Emanuel (13 November 2009). "Go-Between (1971): Losey's Masterpiece Starring Julie Christie and Alan Bates".

Further reading

Further information: Bibliography for Harold Pinter
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