Monday, September 18, 2017

The Greengage Summer

Susannah York as Joss.
Knowing my affinity for 1960s British cinema, my blogger friend Connie from Silver Scenes recently recommended The Greengage Summer (aka Loss of Innocence). Currently available on YouTube, it turned out to be an ideal way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Set 15 years after World War II, The Greengage Summer opens with a train arriving in the "Green and Gold Champagne Country of France." Mrs. Grey, a mother of four, exits the train on a stretcher. She has blood poisoning and must be transported directly to a hospital. She puts her oldest daughter, 16-year-old Joss (Susannah York), in charge of her siblings. 

Danielle Darrieux and Kenneth More.
When the children arrive at their hotel, the manager nor the owner want to accept the motherless children as guests. However, a gentleman "friend" of the owner, Eliot (Kenneth More), intercedes on the children's behalf. They are allowed to stay at the Hotel Oeillets, and as the days pass, they bond closely with the fortyish Eliot. Hester, the second oldest daughter, notices that Eliot has begun to look at Joss differently. Joss has noticed this as well and likes the attention, though she carefully avoids being alone with Eliot on a country outing.

Screenwriter Rumer Godden based The Greengage Summer on her own 1958 novel. As with Godden's earlier Black Narcissus, there's an emotional intensity suppressed within most of the characters. The hotel's owner, Madame Zisi, is hopelessy in love with Eliot, even though she knows very little about him. She does, however, quickly realize that Joss has become a rival for Eliot's affections. The hotel manager, Madame Corbet, is in love with Zisi (though this subplot is never explored). Paul, a young man who works at the hotel, playfully banters with Hester--but he, too, is attracted to Joss. Emotions begin to overflow near the climax when Zisi, unable to contain her pent-up jealousy any longer, flings a glass of champagne at Joss in front of Eliot and other guests.

Susannah York and Kenneth More.
The most intriguing character is Joss, who is an instigator as well as a victim. Once she realizes her youthful beauty gives her power over men, she uses it to her advantage. She convinces Eliot to save Paul from being dismissed. She makes a grand entrance at a party after Madame Zisi specifically told her to stay in her room and then dances with practically every man. Yet, she is still a teenager, and when she overhears Eliot referring to her as a child, she becomes angry and strikes back at him in a very hurtful way.

The Greengage Summer is well acted by almost the entire cast. Susannah York makes it easy to believe that men would swoon over her (though she looks much older than sixteen). Kenneth More finds the right tone as a middle-aged man infatuated with a teenage girl. It would be easy to make Eliot a creepy character, but More deftly avoids that with his sincerity. (Some fans have suggested Dirk Bogarde would have been a better Eliot, but I disagree).

Jane Asher and Paul McCartney.
However, the standout in the cast is Jane Asher as Hester. Asher later gained celebrity status in the 1960s as Paul McCartney's girlfriend and eventual fiancee. They never married, supposedly due to Paul's infidelities. However, many Fab Four critics think that she was the subject of several Beatles' songs such as "And I Love Her" and "Here, There and Everywhere."

While The Greengage Summer lacks the thematic complexity of Black Narcissus, I quite enjoyed it. In fact, it sent me looking for other films based on Rumer Godden's works. Next up on my watchlist: The Battle of the Villa Fiorita (1965) starring Maureen O'Hara.


  1. I've been looking forward to your review. You captured the tone and the excellent performances perfectly.

    What I recall most of the film is the very pretty setting and a knot in my stomach feeling for all of the characters. I was much younger when I saw Loss of Innocence and wondered if things in life were ever straight-forward. Well, that answers that!

  2. Looks terrific! Just added it to my list, especially after reading your thoughts on Jane Asher's performance.

  3. Now, is this a coincidence or what! Yesterday it was raining and I had the urge to watch a TV movie with a grey sky/bare tree setting and randomly chose "In This House of Brede" ( Diana Riggs, 1975 ) about Benedictine nuns. And lo! it turned out to be based on a Rumer Godden book. Her books certainly crop up all over the place. It's odd that you wrote this review just a day earlier. I've never read any of Godden's works, but after watching Brede I think I'll delve into that novel.

    An excellent review, Rick ( as always ). "Loss of Innocence" is a much more fitting title because the story really is about the kids seeing life differently....although, as you said, Joss is more of an instigator to the events herself.

    Looking forward to reading your thoughts on The Battle of Villa Fiorita....I only recall that it was a sad film.

    1. Thanks for the great recommendation on GREENAGE SUMMER (and I agree about the title). Now, you make me want to see Dame Diana's movie again....

  4. I truly enjoyed "The Greengage Summer." Kenneth More is quite good in a difficult role. But the standout performance is indeed Jane Asher whose Hester has far more sense than her older sister Joss. This is a fascinating film that I want to see again. You provided an excellent analysis, Rick, and I hope more people will seek this out.

    1. I'm glad you also appreciated Jane Asher's performance. Watching her watch the others is fascinating.

  5. I saw yesterday the remake of The 39 Steps, is very good, he could carry a movie. I love your site, you do a great job! But I miss the interviews and the quizzes!

  6. Yes, thank you. I too was most engaged by Jane Asher in the role of Hester. Maybe because I too am 3 years younger than my sister who in our teens had the figure of a woman while I looked much younger and under developed for my age. She was wise and moral but we all know that can fly out the window when you're in love.
    Despite Susannah being 22 and Kenneth 45 at the time of filming in this modern age it just feels a bit 'ikky'. Joss even describes her age to him as 16 and a 1/2 and only kids do that. But overall it was an easy watch and a nice film none the less.