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The Homecoming Movie Review

merchant pinter michael film

Vivien Merchant (1929–82) was a wonderful actress who left behind far too few examples of her brilliant work on film. She met her future husband, Harold Pinter, in repertory and they were married in 1956. A full decade later, Merchant, then 37, first attracted the attention of international audiences as Lily, opposite Michael Caine's Alfie. Merchant was seen the following year as Rosalind in the Joseph Losey film Accident, scripted by Pinter. More prominently, she starred on Broadway as Ruth in The Homecoming. Her co-stars Paul Rogers and Ian Holm as Max and Lenny, playwright Pinter, and director Peter Hall all received Tony awards at the first televised ceremony, and Merchant received a nomination. When The Homecoming was produced by the American Film Theatre six years later, most of the creative personnel who made the play a success were signed on for the movie (including Terence Rigby as Joey, but excluding John Normington as Sam and Michael Craig as Teddy, who were replaced by Cyril Cusack and Michael Jayston), a decision that should have been made for some of the other compromised A.F.T. productions. You can't take your eyes off Merchant when she's onscreen, and her delivery of Pinter's dialogue here makes me wish that they had preserved more of their work together onscreen. Merchant's Broadway triumph in The Homecoming was one of the high points of her much-too-brief career. By 1980, Pinter had left her for Lady Antonia Fraser, and Merchant spent the next two years drinking herself to death. Her obituary notices made sad reading for those who had seen her as Mrs. Pugh in Under Milkwood, as the delightful Mrs. Oxford preparing inedible gourmet meals and offering sensible advice to Alec McCowen's straightforward Inspector Oxford in Frenzy, and as Queen Maria Theresa in the Richard Chamberlain swashbuckler The Man in the Iron Mask, directed by Mike Newell. Hers was a rare and delicate talent and it's sad to think of the delicious Merchant performances we've missed over the last two decades. (The Homecoming was released theatrically overseas in 1976.)

1973 114m/C GB CA Cyril Cusack, Ian Holm, Michael Jayston, Vivien Merchant, Terence Rigby, Paul Rogers; D: Peter Hall; W: Harold Pinter; C: David Watkin; M: Thelonious Monk.

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