ANTONIA AND JANE
UK, 1991, 75 minutes, Colour.
Saskia Reeves, Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy.
Directed by Beeban Kedron.
Antonia and Jane is a BBC Films production, written by Marcy Kahn and directed by Beeban Kedron (director of the strong documentary about the women at Greenham Common and anti-nuclear stances, Carry Greenham Home, and the adaptation of Jeanette Winterson's novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit).
This is a portrait of two women and their friendship as well as their envies and resentments. It is very humorous as well as serious, realistic as well as surreal and taking us into the humour of the absurd. It all works well. The strength of the film comes from the writing and the direction and the performance by Imelda Staunton as Jane. Saskia Reeves as Antonia has something of a more conventional role, which she handles particularly well. The men are presented as nincompoops and exploiters.
The film uses the device of the main characters talking to their psychiatrist, offering them the opportunity to talk about themselves, remember, visualise the past, imagine themselves in different situations, slant the audience view in their favour. When each of them goes to the same psychiatrist, we see the two women, their different perspectives on the same situations.
The film has a great deal to say about women, women in Britain, successful career women finding themselves in ruts, women on personal quests and their envy of people who are more settled - and it also highlights the strength of friendship.
1. Pleasing comedy, serious? Its perspective on two women? In the British situation?
2. The film as a strong portrait of women, appreciating and communicating their sensibilities?
3. The portrait of Antonia, the portrait of Jane? Talking to the same psychiatrist? The contrast between the two, sympathies and antipathies? Audience understanding and appreciation? The structure of the film with the portraits, discussions, moving backwards and forwards in time? Intercutting the two stories? Fantasy and projections, television and the movie? The touches of the absurd? The coincidences? The musical score and the range of songs?
4. Imelda Staunton's portrait of Jane, the immediate impact in her appearance, hairstyles, way of speaking? Type? Her interviews, frankness, putting herself down, envy and resentment of Antonia McGill? The collage of her life? Intercutting with Antonia's? The memories of her birth and her mother's reaction? Herself as a little girl, the travels, Antonia and the other girls and their resentment? Growing up, going dress shopping with Antonia? The memories of Canada - and the jokes about Nanook of the North? Her quests, fads? Her being a disc jockey for the elderly, playing their songs, eating the poppy cake? The matchmaking plans? Her inability to tell people how she really felt? Her changing appearance, echoing the trends? The affair with Norman, his needing her to read Iris Murdoch aloud? At work with the books? The encounter with Howard, his photographic exhibition? The beginning of the affair, their sharing everything? Meeting Antonia, the announcement of the affair and the wedding? Her disappointment, her going to the wedding? Internal rage? The passing of the years, the visualising of the range of reunions? The possibility of her settling down, the sudden arrival of Stephen, sweeping her off her feet, the meal at home, taking him to meet her family, the family criticisms? Her love for Stephen?
5. Jane, her discussions with the psychiatrist, the projection - the TV shows on Iris Murdoch, Antonia as an operatic singer, the family show and disappointing daughters? Her inability to change channels? Her anguish, her decision about telling the truth to Antonia?
6. Saskia Reeves' screen presence and performance as Antonia, her reputation from Jane? As a child and her cruelty to Antonia? Her attitude towards her time in Canada? Buying clothes, Jane's reaction? Her studies, job with the publisher? Her abilities? The meeting with Howard, the beginning of the affair, the wedding, the birth of their son? Her clash about the taxi - and the irony that it was the celebrated author? Edgar wanting her to go and apologise, her making a stand - and then grovelling to the author, unsuccessfully? The clashes with Howard after the years, the separation? Howard's return - her principles and reality? Her going to see the film - and projecting her own guilt onto the screen? The humour of the French Resistance, Howard and herself with Jane? Jane's death scene and the Marsellaise? The visits to the psychiatrist? The presentation of existential facts and her having to interpret them? Being in a rut, envious of Jane?
7. The picturing of the reunions, the changes of clothes, hairstyles, books, conversations?
8. The psychologist, her skills, listening, needing the two as clients? Knowing about each? The threat that she would not be needed by them any more?
9. The Jewish background, Jane's mother, her friends, her disappointment with her daughter? The dances? Her Jewish uncle - and his support of Oswald Mosley and the Nazis? His appearing on the television projection?
10. The portrait of the men, Howard and his pretentiousness, his photographic exhibitions and aspects of the human body? Norman and his impotence, needing Iris Murdoch read aloud - and Jane's final stance against him, his wanting to change to Anita Bruckner? A.D. Humphries and his behaviour with the taxi, as the celebrated novelist? Edgar, preoccupied with his fish, his attitude towards Jane, wanting her to grovel, sacking her? Jeremy and his picking Antonia up, the sexual encounter, the masochistic games? The irony that he was Daniel's schoolmaster? The irony of the afternoon tea with Jeremy and his wife? His later coming to propose more games to her?
11. The contrast with Stephen, his uncle promoting him, in jail? Escape, meeting Jane, the meal, with her parents, the arrest?
12. Daniel, his performance with the microphone - and his knowing more sex jokes than his mother? The clash with Howard? His going to boarding school?
13. The build-up in each of the two, the preparation for the reunion, their rehearsing the truth that they were going to speak to each other? Embracing each other in friendship?