A Touch of Love (1969) – Film Review
Director: Waris Hussein
Cast: Sandy Dennis, Ian McKellen, Michael Coles
By Sarah Morgan
Sheffield-born Margaret Drabble is, along with her sister AS Byatt, one of the most important British novelists of her generation.
In 1965, her third novel, The Millstone, was published to great acclaim. Producers Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg snapped up the film rights, hired her to write the screenplay, and the subsequent movie, retitled A Touch of Love, was released in 1969.
Up until that time, Subotsky and Rosenberg had been best known for making horror movies. Their studio, Amicus, was a rival to Hammer thanks to a series of spooky portmanteau films which continue to have a cult following.
This project, however, is more kitchen sink than supernatural, and follows a few years in the life of quiet academic Rosamund. She’s pursued by two men, but puts them off by telling each of them she’s sleeping with the other. She is, however, sleeping with neither of them – but she is pregnant via her first sexual experience with George, a well-known TV newsreader.
Rosamund doesn’t tell him about the baby and doesn’t reveal the father’s name to her friends. Instead, she steadfastly decides to bring her daughter up herself, to the disgust of many of those around her who feel it would be in the best interests of all involved to put the child up for adoption.
Later, Rosamund bumps into George again, and it’s clear there’s a spark between them. But could they really live happily ever after?
Nebraska native Sandy Dennis may seem an odd choice to play an English academic, but at the time she was at the peak of her powers, having won an Oscar for her performance in 1966’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. As a result, landing her for a relatively small British movie would have been something of a coup.
On a number of occasions, her cut-glass English accent does slip a little, but otherwise she’s utterly believable as Rosamund, a young woman living on the periphery of London life, but showing previously unheralded grit and determination to raise a child alone.
Eleanor Bron also appears as her best friend and later flatmate, while Ian McKellen, in only his second film, is rather charming as George.
Character actors such as Maurice Denham, John Standing, Michael Coles and Rachel Kempson all pop up, and the performances are well-handled by Waris Hussein, who is perhaps best known for directing the very first Doctor Who serial in 1963.
The film itself is lowkey but compelling, although there are some genuinely shocking moments involving the treatment of women, mothers and children – thank goodness times have moved on.