(director: Peter Medak; screenwriter: from the play by Peter Nichols/Peter Nichols; cinematographer: Ken Hodges; editor: Ray Lovejoy; music: Edward Elgar; cast: Alan Bates (Bri), Janet Suzman (Sheila), Peter Bowles (Freddie), Sheila Gish (Pam), Joan Hickson (Grace), Elizabeth Robillard (Jo), Murray Melvin (Doctor); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: R; producer: David Deutsch; Columbia; 1972-UK)

“Superb black comedy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The superb black comedy is based on Peter Nichols’ London/Broadway stage hit. Nichols also writes the hard-hitting screenplay. Director Peter Medak(“The Odd Job”/”Sporting Chance”/”The Ruling Class”) directs with a good eye for comedy despite all the drama’s angst. The film wrapped in 1970 but for some reason the studio didn’t release it until two years later.

It’s about a Bristol, England, couple, the prankster schoolteacher at a boy’s school, Bri (Alan Bates), and his homebody sexy amateur actress wife Sheila (Janet Suzman), who have a problem at home they can’t solve. The loving couple are burdened with a spastic drooling cerebral palsy 10-year-old daughter named Josephine (Elizabeth Robillard), aka Joe Egg, who is a vegetable and requires constant care. The weary couple are in limbo between supporting their daughter’s demanding needs and wishing she was gone.

In the film’s second half, the burdened couple are visited by two ignorant but well-meaning friends, Freddie (Peter Bowles) and his crude wife Pam (Sheila Gish). Freddie is in Sheila’s theater group and is her lover. The suffering parents are forced to suffer through an agonizing evening with their guests. Meanwhile we have through flashbacks seen the medically incompetent birth of Josephine and her miserable life over the last ten years.

The result is an uncomfortable but provocative film about the fate of an unwanted helpless child. It’s a glum film that’s not for everyone. But it’s easy to admire for its realism. The studio deserves kudos for bringing this theater production to the screen unspoiled and unsentimental. To lighten the heaviness and the talk of euthanasia, the featured frustrated couple act out cruel comical games. Also, there's a few fantasy sequences to lighten the tone. This is the real deal about life over abortion, which is why its unhappy ending might be hard to swallow for some viewers.

REVIEWED ON 3/14/2016 GRADE: B+  https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/