Chris lived happily on a luxurious estate in the beautiful English countryside until his gracious lifestyle was interrupted by World War I. After being wounded in battle and sent to a hospital, he reacts with seemingly bizarre behavior. He claims not to recognize his beautiful wife Kitty nor to remember recent times with his devoted cousin Jenny. He writes a letter to Margaret, a women he loved 20 years earlier during an idyllic summer.
Kitty arranges to have her shell-shocked husband brought home. When he then states that unless he sees Margaret he will surely die, Kitty sends Jenny to find her in town where she lives with her husband. The reunion with Margaret lifts Chris's spirits, putting a bounce in his step and making his face glow with emotional exhilaration.
Exiled from her husband, Kitty consults Doctor Anderson, an idiosyncratic psychiatrist who says of Chris's amnesia: "It's my profession to bring people from various outlying districts of the mind to the normal. There seems to be a general feeling it's the place where they ought to be. Sometimes I don't see the urgency myself."
Alan Bridges directs this exquisite screen version of Rebecca West's 1918 novel with finesse. He does justice to the story's delineation of the different shades of love evidenced by the lead characters. Alan Bates is appropriately vulnerable as Chris, a man who does not seem to miss the comfort and ease of his marriage. Julie Christie, as his wife, comes across as a self-absorbed and shallow woman who is more concerned with saving face than anything else. Ann-Margret is excellent as Jenny, a sexually repressed spinster who barely constrains her love for Chris; she would be willing to spend the rest of her life taking care of him. Best of all is Glenda Jackson as Margaret, the lower class woman who has won Chris's heart and holds the key to his future. In the name of love, she must determine whether to let him return to his "normal" life.
This is the kind of nuanced drama in which moods shift imperceptibly and environment and clothing reveal as much about the characters as their words. Although Kitty and Jenny are jealous of Margaret's influence over Chris (especially since they see he as a "dowd") they are willing to let the charade continue until a way out is discovered.
Is happiness even based on fantasy preferable to a life without color? Is truth telling worthwhile even when it leads to pain? What is the most glorious example of love? Bridge's extreme sensitivity to these themes make Rebecca West's novel shine with a light that illuminates the mysterious faculties of human yearning.