Dulcima (1971) – Film Review
Director: Frank Nesbitt
Cast: Carol White, John Mills, Stuart Wilson
by Sarah Morgan
We’re used to seeing rural British life being depicted as bucolic. More often than not, when it comes to films – especially those that end up being popular in America – our countryside is a cosy place to be populated by lively characters and eccentrics.
Certainly 90 per cent of Dulcima, based on a novella by HE Bates, whose most famous works include Uncle Silas and The Darling Buds of May, follows that pattern. But it’s lulling viewers into a false sense of security – the ending packs a wicked and unexpected punch.
Mr Parker is an ageing miser and drunk with his own land on which he lives and works in squalor. After almost running over Dulcima, a neighbour’s daughter, while driving under the influence, she realises what a mess his home is in and offers to come back the next day to tidy up.
Her reasons for doing so are not entirely altruistic. Dulcima is treated like a servant at home; she’s the eldest in a large family and is expected to fetch, carry and clean up after her younger siblings. She thinks a job for Parker might help her escape.
Parker is initially reluctant to take her on – until he sees her wearing a revealing outfit and realises she may have something other than cleaning skills that he can pay for. Sure enough, after she moves into his dilapidated cottage, they begin a sexual relationship he hopes to turn into a marriage.
Dulcima initially seems keen, until she has her head turned by a young and handsome local gamekeeper…
John Mills has always been a charming presence on screen, but here he’s miscast as what is, essentially, a dirty old man. To continue the rural theme, Parker is nothing more than a randy old goat who is only interested in Dulcima’s body, so it’s difficult to feel any sympathy towards him when she begins rejecting his advances.
Carol White does her best as Dulcima, but again, she’s not a particularly likeable character. Initially, we feel sorry for her predicament with her family, but she turns into a manipulative schemer. In fact, the only person who warrants any true sympathy is the young man she falls for, who is completely unaware of her true living arrangements and is about to pay for his devotion in shocking terms.
Ultimately the movie is little more than a curiosity piece that sits somewhere between period dramas such as The Go-Between and the bawdiness of the Confessions… series.
• Fullscreen, as-filmed version
• Original theatrical trailers
Dulcima is released on Blu-ray by Network, £17.99