Petulia is Lester’s masterpiece, his technique, human sympathy and social vision given their sternest test and rising triumphantly to the challenge. The setting is San Francisco, a city whose 1967 ‘summer of love’ is clearly in its death throes. The film is a compassionate critique of an American middle-class lost in its own liberation, and explores the developing relationship between Petulia (Julie Christie) and a doctor, Archie Bonner (George C. Scott), both of whom are reeling from ostensibly satisfying but deeply unsuccessful marriages. His maturity exposes her rashness and irresponsibility, whilst her youth and neurotic energy undermine his worldly-wise complacency and inaction. Their relationship is a finally unavailing fight to make contact, in a sense to save each other’s lives, in a society of alienating sexuality and violence where romantic fulfilment is thwarted by emotional aggression. Lester fashions an extraordinary mosaic of contemporary feeling, painful, penetrating, deeply moving, superlatively acted. The pessimism is undeniable, but a work of artoand that is what Petulia isois a sure sign of hope.
U.S.A., 1968.Colour.105 mins.