We Think the World of You

We Think the World of You is an utterly quirky, completely ingratiating little British movie about a man and a dog. To be fair, it’s about a lot of other things as well, but somehow the dog, a splendid German Shepherd named Evie, keeps grabbing center stage.

Based on a novel by Joseph R. Ackerley, the film is a character study of a genteel and cultured homosexual named Frank (Alan Bates) in London in the 1950s. Frank has had an affair with a raggedy young sailor, Johnny (Gary Oldman, who played Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy). At the beginning of the film, Johnny lands a one-year jail term for a minor offense.

Johnny leaves behind a pregnant wife (Frances Barber), a couple of kids, and his no-guff, lower-class parents. Frank befriends them all.

Frank’s finery is out of place in their slummy neighborhood, but he regularly visits Johnny’s parents anyway, a babbling mother (Liz Smith) and a broken-down stepfather (Max Wall). These two care for a perfectly horrid baby, Johnny’s infant son. They also care for Evie, Johnny’s dog. This is where the film begins to curve in unexpected ways.

Frank, who feels hurt that Johnny won’t let him visit in prison, transfers his anxieties and affection to the dog. He claims not to be an animal lover, but he pities the hound, cooped up (like Johnny) in a cramped courtyard.

Evie becomes a bone of contention in the family. Frank fears the dog will shrivel from neglect; the others don’t appreciate Frank’s attention. You soon get the idea that when they argue about Evie, they’re really arguing about their other problems and worries.

I should mention at this point that this movie is a comedy. Perhaps not of the thigh-slapping variety, but a droll comedy nonetheless.

Aside from Colin Gregg’s careful, well-judged direction, a lot of the humor comes from the work of Alan Bates, who gives his best performance of the decade (along with his role as the forlorn spy in An Englishman Abroad). Bates’s fastidious, civilized Frank is wonderfully perplexed by the dog, but he soon gives himself over to long, spirited walks by the riverside with Evie. He even lets her take over the armchair in his tidy flat.

No review of the film would be complete without kudos for the dog. Evie, we are told, is played by an Alsatian named Betsy. Magnificent creature. The look on her face as she sits by the fire in Frank’s apartment communicates an almost human contentment: a great actor’s moment.

First published in The Herald, February 9, 1989

Haven’t seen this film since, but it sounds like a good re-visit. Director Gregg stuck to UK TV after this. Alan Bates was only in his mid-fifties here, but his future film and TV career, though busy enough, is surprisingly minor, save for choice things like Claudius in the Branagh Hamlet and a turn in Gosford Park; I assume he continued to work on stage.

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