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  Our Mother's House mother is listening
Year: 1967
Director: Jack Clayton
Stars: Dirk Bogarde, Margaret Brooks, Pamela Franklin, Louis Sheldon, John Gugolka, Mark Lester, Sarah Nicholls, Gustav Henry, Parnham Wallace, Yootha Joyce, Claire Davidson
Genre: Horror, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 4 votes)
Review: This creepy fable is a winning mix of drama, horror and psychological insight. The seven Hook children: Elsa (Margaret Brooks), Diana (Pamela Franklin), Hubert (Louis Sheldon), Dunstan (John Gugolka), Jiminy (Mark Lester), Gerty (Sarah Nicholls) and Willy (Gustav Henry) discover their sickly mother has died. Frightened at the thought of being separated and sent to an orphanage, they bury her in the garden and try to cope as best they can. Every night, the children hold a séance where Diana is seemingly possessed by her dead mother’s spirit, while the others intone: “Mother is here. Mother is listening.” In the midst of their struggles, the children’s long-lost father, Charlie Hook (Dirk Bogarde) resurfaces with his own, dark secrets.

An autumnal mood pervades Our Mother’s House, a sense of childhood innocence slowly fading away. Aided by Larry Pizer’s burnished cinematography and a melancholy score from Georges Delerue, producer-director Jack Clayton weaves an eerie, delicate atmosphere that chills and moves in equal measure. Clayton drew an iconic turn from child star Pamela Franklin in classic ghost story, The Innocents (1961). She’s just as intense and amazing here, but really all the children are excellent - including future Oliver! (1968) star, Mark Lester - , understated and wholly believable. Each child reacts to the tragedy in credibly different ways. Take charge Elsa tries to keep “everything exactly the same”, angst-ridden Dunston quotes bible verse, kindly Hubert wants an adult in their lives, while the younger kids want biscuits. Only later do the little ones learn just what death means. Willy searches for mother while alone one night and Gerty - who innocently thought up the idea of burying her in the garden - finally cries when they take their first steps outside.

Diana, the most empathic and passionate of the children, tries to keep mother’s spirit alive. The séance scenes are truly unnerving and take a horrific turn when ‘mother’ declares Gerty be punished for stealing an innocent kiss from a passing stranger. Branded a “harlot”, Gerty’s hair is shorn off, leaving her so traumatised she falls ill and it’s only by miracle she doesn’t die. Things aren’t all doom and gloom however. When Elsa and Jiminy forge mother’s cheques, Clayton captures the sheer joy of getting away with it. A delightful sequence has the kids put on a play to entertain a “kidnapped” classmate (played with charming bewilderment by Parnham Wallace), with Dunstan in an oversized top hat, Jiminy in drag, and Diana sporting a huge pair of comedy bosoms.

The screenplay, adapted from a novel by Julian Gloag, was written by Jeremy Brooks and Haya Harareet, who was Charlton Heston’s leading lady in Ben Hur (1959). It’s intelligent and insightful, although Clayton and Dirk Bogarde were less than fond of the finished film and considered it a failure. Once Bogarde’s cockney geezer arrives on the scene, the film takes off in a potentially interesting direction. After charming them with a day at the park, he introduces the boys to sin (smoking, reading Playboy) and awakens creepy, incestuous desires in Diana. Yet once Charlie starts bringing dolly birds home for late night parties, courting disgruntled housekeeper Mrs. Quayle (sitcom star Yootha Joyce in a rare straight role), stealing money and moaning at his kids, the eerie mood lapses into kitchen sink histrionics. Thankfully, things recover for a dark, unnerving finale. Charlie’s climactic rant actually answers one question constantly levelled at this film: namely, why don’t the kids look much alike? Our Mother’s House is a far better film than Clayton and Bogarde gave it credit for. Superbly acted by the young leads and, in spite of the darkness, capable of touching your heart.
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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