(director: Robert Enders; screenwriter: Hugh Whitemore/from the play by Hugh Whitemore/the works of Stevie Smith; cinematographer: Freddie Young; editor: Peter Tanner; music: Patrick Gowers; cast: Glenda Jackson (Stevie Smith), Mona Washbourne (Aunt), Alec McCowen (Freddy), Trevor Howard (Man); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert Enders; New Line Cinema; 1978-USA/UK)

“Unfortunately, besides the flawless performances I didn’t get much else from the film to make it much of a lyrical experience.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director/producer Robert Enders (”Hedda Gabler”) portrays the noted late British poet/author Stevie Smith (Glenda Jackson), the Emily Dickinson of Palmers Green, who died of a brain tumor in 1971 at the age of 69. The film captures her life in the London suburbs. It’s filmed mostly in the quaint house she shares with her beloved elderly maiden aunt (Mona Washbourne). Both Jackson and Washbourne revise their parts from the original stage version. It’s based on the play by Hugh Whitemore. The genteel film is certainly literate and brilliantly acted by the two stars nevertheless is totally unsuitable for the cinema, as Stevie’s uneventful life results in an actionless film that relies solely on sepia-colored flashbacks, Stevie’s consuming concerns about death, multiple shots of trains coming and going through tunnels and of wintry mood shots of Highgate Ponds. The essence of the film consists of retrospection and the telling of secrets.

Trevor Howard is cast as the Man who reads from Stevie’s works and introduces the characters. The opening scene has him quoting Stevie: “Life is like a train station, the train of birth brings us in and the train of death brings us away.” Alec McCowan is cast as Stevie’s boyfriend Freddie, whose brief relationship ends after the first and only time they have sex.

Poetry is the way Stevie chooses to escape her dull middle-class life (showing spunk taking on both the bourgeois and the Christian tenets with a tenacity and calling herself ”an Anglican agnostic”). The viewer who feels at home with Stevie’s whimsical poetry can enjoy it further by sinking his or her teeth into the endearing performances by the two charming actress. Unfortunately, besides the flawless performances, I didn’t get much else from the film to make it much of a lyrical experience.