Long before that small clutch of British commercial directors of the late ‘70s – Alan Parker, Ridley Scott, Hugh Hudson and Adrian Lyne – transferred their creative skills to the big screen, there was a quieter, less showy and more literary group of British directors who created work of great sensitivity that still stands up today and, if anything, is better with the passing of time.
One of these directors was Jack Clayton. He only directed nine features from 1959 to 1987. His first four are, to my mind, his very best: Room at the Top (1959), The Innocents (1961), The Pumpkin Eater (1964) and Our Mother’s House (1967).
Our Mother's House
The latter is a strange little tale about seven children, the eldest aged 13, who stick together to carry on life as normal after their mother’s death. But disruption comes when their estranged father, played by Dirk Bogarde, returns to the fold. The film has some astonishing performances from the children: a knack that Clayton also showed in The Innocents and The Pumpkin Eater.
Martin Stephens and Deborah Kerr in The Innocents
Peter Finch and Anne Bancroft in The Pumpkin Eater
Laurence Harvey and Simone Signoret in Room at the Top
There was a seven-year gap from Our Mother’s House to The Great Gatsby. This transfer to a big Hollywood production didn’t suit the controlled intimacy of Clayton’s earlier films. Almost a decade passed before his next film, Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983). His last feature was The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, which was a little more on home ground, albeit Ireland, but lacking in his original brilliance. He made a drama for TV in 1992. He died three years after that.
Take a look at some scenes from Our Mother’s House and The Innocents.