Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Only now does it occur to me... OUR MOTHER'S HOUSE

Only now does it occur to me... that Jack Clayton should certainly be in the running for "greatest ever director of child actors." Anyone who has seen THE INNOCENTS cannot fail to be impressed by the child leads (Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin), who infuse their roles with a spooky maturity and an uncanny depth that almost make you wonder if the children have been possessed for real. [I've already reviewed THE INNOCENTS (1961), and conclude that (alongside THE CHANGELING) it's probably the greatest "ghost story" film ever made.]

Clayton further demonstrated his proficiency in working with child actors in the (flawed, but interesting) adaptation of SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (1983) and the (Harold Pinter-penned) domestic drama, THE PUMPKIN EATER (1964). I just finished watching OUR MOTHER'S HOUSE (1967), and I have to say he sort of outdoes himself, at least as far as the directing is concerned.

I wouldn't quite call OUR MOTHER'S HOUSE a horror film, but it's more macabre than your usual drama; between its atmosphere and pedigree, I think I can safely shoehorn it into my "Melancholy Horror" genre, which I've described at length here. It has an overcast, oddly unsettling pre-autumn color palette

that carries a "back to school" nostalgia alongside a kind of bleak-hearted English emptiness.

In its own way, I'd call it a minor influence on everything from CARRIE to THE BEGUILED to THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE.

The initial set-up (without getting too spoilery) is that a deeply religious mother has been living from her sickbed, trying to raise seven children of varying ages. Consequently, they have become quite self-sufficient but have developed a complicated socio-political structure, a structure whose key anchor is their daily religious instruction, ominously called "Mother Time."

When Mother dies, the children see little reason to alter the makeup of their insulated household, and therefore decide to bury her in the backyard garden without telling anyone. What follows is a sort of domesticated and more introverted version of LORD OF THE FLIES, filled with unexpected happenings and power struggles and séances and matriarchal cults––it's top-notch wacko melodrama, and I mean that as highest praise. That any of this works at all is a testament to Clayton and his talented child actors. Of course, one of the standouts is THE INNOCENTS' Pamela Franklin,

who seizes a mantle of power and is overwhelmed by deep, pubescent insecurities. The role requires her to run a gamut of human emotion that even lifelong devotees of the craft would find daunting. She is phenomenal.

Also, Dirk Bogarde is in this, too. I won't tell you under what circumstance he appears, but he knows this film belongs to the children and he does not attempt to upstage them.

(He has top billing in this movie, simply because the true stars are little-known child actors.)

In short, if you have an interest in morbid 1960s melodrama, a master's class in child acting, or what I term melancholy horror, OUR MOTHER'S HOUSE is a curiosity worth seeking out.


John Guedes said...

Catching up on some older posts here and I also recently discovered this little forgotten gem of British cinema. Reading the premise just sounded so bizarre and macabre that I had to get my hands on it. I concur, the child actors here are phenomenal and watching them come to terms with this tragedy was fascinating to watch.

Sean Gill said...


Definitely––it's such a strange little movie. And it makes we want to hunt down the Claytons I haven't seen, THE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE and his TV movie MEMENTO MORI.

Anonymous said...

I remember having seen this film and found it haunting. I remember a moving scene in which innocent little Gerty was punished by the other children because she had taken a ride on a stranger's motorbike. I also remember Dirk Bogarde playing a progressively unsettling character... Not quite sure what to make of him when he first appeared in the film and wondering whether the children would be cared for after he'd joined them... And I remember I suspected he might be withdrawing interesting information from the children...

Maria Șerban

Sean Gill said...


Yes, it's a very vivid and unsettling movie that certainly lingers with the viewer. Thanks for stopping by!