Wetherby (1985) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Scoop's notes in white:

So, what the hell is a Wetherby? It's just the name of a nondescript and middle class English town which provides the backdrop for this mysterious whydunit. (It's a suicide, so we already know WHOdunit.)

An unfulfilled middle aged schoolmarm hosts a small dinner party one evening. As the guests arrive, a stranger appears at the door, says he is John Morgan, and walks in to the dinner. Everyone present assumes that  somebody else invited a kind invitation to this lost soul, so they politely set an extra place for him. It turns out that he has simply invited himself.

John Morgan returns to the teacher's house the next morning, makes a little small talk, pulls a gun from his pocket, sticks it in his mouth, and calmly shoots himself.

And there is our whydunit premise. Why was John Morgan at that party? Why did he commit suicide? Why did he choose the teacher's home to make his farewell statement? The last question is especially intriguing to the police, because a suicide among strangers is totally uncharacteristic. Typically a suicide happens alone, or as a dramatic statement made in front of someone for a purpose, but not among random people. The police inspector tries to assemble the pieces of the puzzle, with only limited success, but we in the audience get a significant amount of additional insight when we see incidents from John Morgan's past, from the teacher's past, and from additional moments during the evening of the dinner party.

The solution to the puzzle is never really explicit, but the script maintains an appropriate feeling of ubiquitous portent throughout the story by the unspoken parts of the secret. The story thus stands apart from the type of mystery which functions logically and deductively. It is inductive, and oblique. It offers not solutions, but hints, suggestions, or working hypotheses. This technique is quite an intelligent way to present the unraveling, as if Harold Pinter had decided to take his elegant dialogue and sense of foreboding away from psychological dramas about the rich and write instead a mystery story about the educated middle class. On the other hand, not everyone watches movies to see displays of intelligence, suggestion, and subtlety. If you want to see a true mystery story, you will really not care for this much at all. You will probably sit quietly during the closing credits and think, "Am I supposed to understand why it happened? I'm not sure that I do, even after all that exposition."

The dialogue is smart and it is delivered by a first-rate and classically trained cast, headed by Ian Holm, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, and Vanessa Redgrave. Vanessa's look-alike daughter, Joely, plays her mother's character in flashback scenes. The story had its origin on the London stage, not in a play written by Harold Pinter but one from David Hare, who adapted his own play into this screenplay and also directed the film, constructing it carefully to maintain a certain portentous tone. If you enjoy Pinter's plays, or other works which rely on the careful maintenance of tone to evoke a calculated emotional response from the audience, you'll find this to be a good example of the type. Roger Ebert felt it was worth four stars.

I myself don't especially enjoy watching Pinteresque plays. I don't know how much of Pinter's (or Hare's) dialogue is meant to represent realistic characterization and how much is stagy artifice, but I've always thought this sort of dialogue to be merely a component of the contrivance necessary to evoke a certain audience response. It always sounds like speechifying to me. Of course, I may be wrong about whether these characters are realistic. The fact that I don't know any people who talk or think like these people doesn't obviate the possibility that these portrayals do fairly represent a certain side of British life of which I am unaware. If that is so, I'm glad I don't have to spend any time there. I didn't even want to spend the very little time encompassed by this movie. I found Wetherby very tough going  - tedious, talky, and utterly devoid of warmth. Its putative subtlety could also be described as a lack of clarity and catharsis. Roger Ebert may be correct in his assessment that this is a superior film, but frankly the vast majority of you would top off a viewing by questioning how anyone could possibly like this. My own reaction to the film involved no small measure of admiration, but not one scintilla of enjoyment.

Tuna's comments in yellow:

Wetherby sports a stellar cast including Vanessa Redgrave and Judy Dench. The plot is simple enough. A stranger invites himself to a small dinner party at the home of spinster teacher Redgrave. The next day, he visits her, and blows his brains all over her wall. The rest of the film examines the question, "Why did he do it?" An assortment of characters all wonder why he did it, including Redgrave's lifelong friend (Dench), the friend's husband, a police investigator, and a rather strange female acquaintance of the deceased .

The question didn't struck me as a particularly interesting one to begin with, especially as I didn't know the character, but I didn't feel like I was any closer to an answer by the time the film ended. So, if the film didn't answer the question, "Why did he do it?", what question did the film answer? It wasn't until I started thinking about how on earth to review this that I found the real question, and point of the film. Either of two questions will get you there.

  • Why did these characters want to know why he did it?
  • Why were these characters included in the story?

that most of us are profoundly unhappy just under the surface. At least in my case, that is a totally false assumption.


Suzanna Hamilton is seen in a thin white top and panties. There is no actual nudity, but her dark nipples/areolae are constantly visible through the thin shirt.

Joely Richardson shows a breast in the flashbacks.

DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen anamorphic

  • no meaningful features

The answer is the same in both cases. All of them are living unhappy lives, although they appear outwardly content with life. So the real question of the film isn't "Why did he do it?" but rather, "Why don't we do it?" Unfortunately, the film doesn't really answer that either. What is the value in this? Possibly, the film makers are asking us to look inside ourselves, and decide if we are or aren't happy, and figure out what keeps us going.

I feel a little better now that I see a reason for the film to exist, and it is now clear why I didn't relate to it at all. The basic assumption is


The Critics Vote ...

  • Roger Ebert 4/4

  • Judy Dench was nominated for a BAFTA, as she has been for just about every movie.

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, Scoop says, "This is a C+ if you like psychological character studies and might enjoy one filled with a sense of mystery, but it's a D if you are hoping for a genuine mystery genre film. Most people will be baffled by the fact that others seem to like it. Tuna says, "The film is technically competent, but, at least for me, doesn't justify the expenditure of time. C-."

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