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Metroland

Director: Philip Saville


We’ve had two film adaptations of Julian Barnes novels in the past year. Marion Vernoux’s French production Love Etc. was a free interpretation of Talking It Over (1991), and the Anglo-French Metroland is based on the author’s 1980 debut. The Anglo-French experience is of course crucial to Barnes’ novels, which pit English reserve against the freer spirit of the French. Metroland is about two best friends, Chris and Toni, who rebel against the stifling conformity of English suburbia. The book is a rites-of-passage tale in three equal parts, set in 1963, when Chris is 16 and living at the quiet end of the Metropolitan Line, in 1968, when he is in Paris, and in 1977, when he is back in suburbia.
Adrian Hodges’ screenplay concentrates on the 1977 section of the novel, using flashbacks to Chris’ earlier exploits, especially his stay in Paris and his affair with sexual spitfire Annick (Elsa Zylberstein). Now settled in Metroland, Chris (Christian Bale) is happily married to Marion (Emily Watson). Disruption comes with the unexpected return of Toni (Lee Ross), who has travelled the world and never settled down. The anti-establishment Toni frowns on Chris for his acceptance of middle-class complacency. Perhaps out of jealousy, he plays on Chris’ uncertainty about the choices he has made, even placing sexual temptation in his path to undermine his marriage.
British director Philip Saville (Boys from the Blackstuff, Fellow Traveller) brings a gritty approach to the material, jettisoning much of the cleverness and knowing references in the novel. Saville concentrates more on questions of friendship and emotional honesty, and on the dilemma facing Chris. He elicits strong performances from his cast, especially Christian Bale and Emily Watson, who are superb at capturing a strong sense of ‘Englishness’.

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