Kate Brady (Rita Tushingham) has moved from the Irish countryside with her best friend Baba (Lynn Redgrave) to Dublin where they can enjoy more freedom, or so they believe, though Ireland remains a deeply conservative country and it's debatable how far the young women can let their hair down. Kate gets a job at a grocer's to make her living while she ponders her next move: maybe she will move to London next, as so many her age are doing, or perhaps love will come knocking at her door and she can find a nice man to settle down with. But the chap she settles on is not anyone she would have anticipated, and if it's a surprise to her, imagine how it is to the rest of the community.
Edna O'Brien is one of the most significant writers of the twentieth century, and one of the most controversial, with her books being burned in her native Ireland and the country's moralists decrying her at every turn for suggesting - more than suggesting, in some cases - that women need to be heard in a modern society, and religion is more repressive and suppressive to them than it ever will be to liberating them and giving the opportunities they need to live a fulfilled life. For some reason this was beyond the pale during the era she emerged as literary force to be reckoned with, but it was novels she concentrated on and which drew the ire of the conservatives, rather than film.
That said, she did pen a few scripts, and this, adapted from her book The Lonely Girl, was a loosely autobiographical account of her experiences with her first husband, a writer she quickly overshadowed once she got into print. This was also the choice of then-vital Woodfall Films to follow their run of successes at the box office, a series of ground breakers that shook up British cinema and became must-sees for the younger generation, though as The Girl with Green Eyes was hot on the heels of the world-beating Tom Jones the previous year, it had quite a bit to live up to. Nevertheless, thanks to the Woodfall name and some hot new talent, it was a genuine hit.
Not that there are a large group of people who recall it now, and even O'Brien fans will prefer to stay with the page, but this was a perfectly respectable adaptation of the kind that paved the way for independent features in Britain, and Ireland for that matter, small scale, intimate dramas showcasing two or three adept performances working from a sympathetic screenplay. With that in mind, this may come across as something more at home on the small screen, as a contemporary television play for instance, though with Desmond Davis at the helm of the first of a small but valued number of cult Britflicks of the sixties, it was guaranteed to be attractively photographed. That was in black and white, partly for budget and presumably also because the title actress's eyes were blue and not green.
Tushingham was skilfully emerging from a sudden rise to fame after her classic A Taste of Honey, and here she got to exercise her Irish accent, thankfully not overdoing it, as did Redgrave, enjoying a great rapport so you could easily believe these two had escaped the stifling rural life and were seeking to expand their horizons, chatterbox Baba highly amusing. There was another actor just as important to the effect, and he was Peter Finch who plays the divorced (gasp!) author living in the mansion Kate happens to visit by chance and is immediately taken by this mysterious man of the world, wanting some of that experience he has apparently come by so effortlessly. Naturally, all his experience has been very hard-won, and Kate discovers that as she and he spark a May to September romance that scandalises the locals and enrages her family to the point of violence. This aspect, while partly played for amusement, contained a clear indictment of what O'Brien patently saw as a backward state of mind corrupting her homeland, and lent the narrative its almost casually compelling qualities. She made no bones about why she needed to get away. Music by John Addison.
[Available as part of the BFI's Woodfall box set on Blu-ray and DVD, which includes these fully restored films: