Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Dulcima (1971)

God bless Network for allowing so many long neglected cinematic gems a chance to be rediscovered.

Dulcima from 1971 is just one of those gems. A Golden Bear winner at the Berlin Film Festival, this was based on a story by the bucolic author HE Bates (he of The Darling Buds of May fame) from his novella The Nature of Love. It concerns the titular Dulcima played by Carol White (Cathy Come Home, Poor Cow and Up The Junction) a hapless drudge of a young girl who dreams of a metropolitan life of inexhaustible money for fancy clothes to catch the eye of handsome gents - a life that seems as far away as the moon to her in rural Gloucestershire. Into her life comes an aging, coarse and lonely neighbouring farmer, a widower called Mr Parker played with superb comic timing and rare depth by John Mills. When Dulcima realises how much cash he has squirreled away, he proves to be her unlikely saviour and she inveigles her way into his home, first as a housekeep and then as a live in lover. But Dulcima's feminine wiles cannot foresee or stall the consequences when her attention wanders to the handsome and gentle new gamekeeper from the next farm played by a young Stuart Wilson.

H E Bates' story is an earthy one, in turn amusing and poignant whilst all the while being sensitive to the realities of rural life. This is further enhanced by some lovely cinematography and the assured direction of Frank Nesbitt from his own adapted screenplay which captures early seventies country life in a manner that is beautiful but remains realistic and a far cry from the touristy chocolate box glamour some directors would attach to such fare. It's fitting as the film takes a somewhat fatalistic Hardy-like turn bringing our previous laughter suddenly up short.

I always feel rather sad watching Carol White films knowing just how unfulfilled her potential became and how tragically short her life was. I firmly believe she was a unique star of the 60s - thanks in no small part to her work with Ken Loach - escaping the dollybird trappings most blonde beautiful actresses fell into to depict the more unglamourous, downtrodden 'flower in the dustbin' type roles that she truly excelled at. With Dulcima, she gets to show a natural progression; starting out as a drudge and, spying her chance, achieving the beautiful soft focus life she dreamt of when enviously scouring the fashion photography within her glossy magazines. In the book Loach on Loach by Graham Fuller, Ken Loach discusses his star in terms of being 'the anti-Julie Christie', though it is clear that she could straddle both camps and was given the chance to here. He also discusses her natural vulnerability as her greatest asset, but Nesbitt here shows not just that, but also her surprising flair for hidden low cunning. Her character's manipulation of Parker's lust and loneliness mirrors in many ways the same kind of themes that Roger Michell and Hanif Kureishi would later explore in the 2006 film Venus with Peter O'Toole and Jodie Whittaker. 

And of course it goes without saying that John Mills is excellent as Parker, bringing real light and shade to a role that could so easily have become comedically one note. He makes us laugh in the right places, but equally, he makes us see that the old letch is still a human being and ultimately we feel and empathise with him just as much, if not indeed more, than with Dulcima herself. 

A beautiful, surprising film that I totally recommend.


  1. I remember DULCIMA but didn't see it, there was a vogue then in the early '70s for the rural fictions of HE Bates and AE Coppard - series like "Country Tales" some of which are now on dvd. DULCIMA sounds like that 1963 Janet Munro starrer BITTER HARVEST but her country dreamer really does go to London and ends up a call girl who comes to a shabby end - its hilariously awful leaving no cliche unturned, but the cast give it their all. A fascinating time capsule now, as is the 70s crime drama THE SQUEEZE where Carol White is marvellous again in a problematic role as the woman kidnapped by sleazy Stephen Boyd (his last role) and David Hemmings, as down on his luck cop Stacey Keach tries to rescue her. Its nasty and brutal as Carol has to strip, but is it her character or herself who is being exploited?

    1. I thoroughly recommend it Michael! I'm hoping to catch another HE Bates adaptation before the week is out too, The Triple Echo with Glenda Jackson and Oliver Reed.

      I like The Squeeze, but haven't seen it for a few years. Definitely have it on disc somewhere though. I've a fondness for those 70s crime dramas. Loved Carol White and remember that scene very well; you've hit the nail on the head there though, as Ken Loach says in that book I reference, Loach on Loach he mentions that her vulnerability is her greatest asset though it is that same vulnerability she brings to the screen that people exploited her from, so yes I think you're right.

  2. I was going to come back and mention THE TRIPLE ECHO - its a little film, but it works marvellously. Olly and Glenda are perfectly cast and Brian Deacon is just right, that 40s wartime era is perfectly evoked too. THE VIRGIN AND THE GYPSY is another from that era, and of course GOODBYE GEMINI and that 1970 DORIAN GRAY ...

    Carol White may well be the lost or forgotten 60s British actress - trailing after Christie, York, Mles, Tushingham, Eggar, Rampling and those Redgrave girls. .

    The television series I mentioned above is COUNTRY MATTERS not, Country Tales.

    1. Looking even more forward to it now then!

      Ah yes Goodbye Gemini, another I've not seen for a few years now but have knocking about somewhere. I bought it on DVD from a private seller when it hadn't got an official release.

      Bitter Harvest is ringing a vague bell

    2. PS there was a rather good Afternoon Play about Carol White on Radio 4 last year, Strangers In The Night, about her attempts to crack Hollywood and a brief exploitative dalliance with...yup, Ol Blue Eyes himself

  3. Carol White has been my favourite Brit actress since I seen her in Poor Cow and Dulcima.
    She was very attractive and her earthiness was apparent. I doubt anyone could play a working class girl the way that Carol so convincingly played them.
    Strange how she always appeared as someone in real life that was innocent and naive. I don't know if she WAS like that outside of being an actress but I suspect she was.
    You can keep ypour Christie's and Co, Carol white was the best looking, the sexiest and the best actress out of the lot.
    Wish the hell I could have met her just to tell her how wonderful she was.