With his earlier film, Dangerous Liaisons, being the study of sexual politics in 18th century France, writer Christopher Hamilton turned to the true and all-consuming love affair between painter Dora Carrington and writer Lytton Strachey but unlike this earlier film, which looked at the destructive relationship between Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil, Carrington examines the love that gave the painter's life meaning as all other affairs fell apart.
Dora Carrington was a young English artist in the Bloomsbury group, which also included Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster and who first met the much older Lytton Strachey some time during the First World War. Carrington was an androgynous young woman, unsure of her sexuality and frustrated by her presence at home while her two brothers fought at the front. Strachey was a confirmed homosexual before meeting Carrington yet on seeing her at a distance he assumes she is a young boy. Yet, even on realising Carrington's true identity, Strachey finds something within her and, despite her thinking of him as a disgusting old pervert, his performance when his pacifism puts him on trial endears him to her and despite his sexuality, the two begin a love affair/relationship that lasts for the next seventeen years until Strachey's death.
With the film broken into six chapters, each of which sees Carrington further explore her sexuality, the film breaks down its subject's life against the men with whom she was then involved with. How the film deals with this is in the jealousies between those men obsessed with Carrington's affections towards them whilst her peculiar affair with Strachey goes unnoticed. So, when Carrington marries Ralph Partridge (Waddington), even asking Strachey to accompany them on their honeymoon to Venice, Partridge finds himself troubled by Carrington's friendship with Gerald Brenan (West). This despite Carrington sharing a bed with Strachey more often than she does with her husband. Indeed, the relationship between Carrington and Strachey first blooms when he is asked by her then lover, Mark Gertler (Sewell), to convince her that to surrender her virginity would be a noble thing. This sequence, with Strachey intercut alongside others telling Carrington to simply sleep with Gertler probably offers the best moments in the film.
However, it is the relationship between Carrington and Strachey that underpins the film and given that it is between an openly gay man and a woman initially embarrassed by her femininity, there is space for the film to be more daring than it is. Beginning with a mild attraction from Carrington, the film sees her fall in love with him but with his lack of interest in the female body - even declaring to Partridge that it disgusts him - she chooses to lie beside him with her back to him and to have at least some form of sexual contact, masturbates him.
The trouble with Christopher Hamilton's scripts is that he fails to bring anything particularly likeable to his characters. As both Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil continue their petty feud to the exclusion of all others, Carrington and Strachey carry on their affair with little regard as to who they tramp over in doing so. Both impress on the viewer the opinion that standing up for their relationship was simply not going to happen, in addition, Strachey is portrayed as the type of prissy, ineffectual, spineless artist that gives liberalism a bad name. Despite only once defending his pacifism during a time of war, he remains quiet as others declare that all pacifists should be shot and when Gertler berates Carrington at a party, Strachey skulks in the background. In fact, the only character trait given to Strachey other than his weakness is the circular tubing he carries with him, saying only that he is a, "martyr to the piles."
Carrington has been transferred with its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 intact and looks good if often just a little soft. It's doubtful whether this is related to the transfer as such, being more likely to reflect the original shoot, much of which took place in southern England during the hazy summer months with a slight August fog present through much of the location scenes.
In keeping with MGM's use of the original audio tracks, Carrington has been transferred with a Dolby Pro-Logic surround soundtrack encoded within a stereo signal and sounds fine. Being as talky as the film is, you're unlikely to notice much from the rear speakers but the soundtrack is clean, there's little noticeable noise and the dialogue is clear.
As with other budget MGM releases, Carrington has been released with only the one extra, a Theatrical Trailer (2m36s, 1.85:1 Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): Being not much more than a series of highlights, this trailer begins by playing on Lytton Strachey's eccentricities but moves on to summarise the affairs that play around the central relationship between Strachey and Carrington. This trailer is unsubtitled.
Having not taken the opportunity to connect the activities of the film to affairs in the world around them, the viewer ought to be prepared to love both Carrington and Strachey in order to appreciate this film. However, seeing that both characters are drawn all too clearly from the box marked 'self-obsessed artist', actually getting to the point where either would even be tolerated is a troubled and little-worn path.
Doubtless, there could be a good film about the relationship between Carrington and Strachey, or indeed, any gay man and a woman lacking in sexual confidence but Carrington is not it. The difficulty with the film is that the characters remain too dislikable to connect with and with no emotional link being proposed between the audience and the characters on-screen, this will be a difficult two hours for all but the most enthusiastic scholars of the Bloomsbury group.