Ian McKellen's meticulous performance in this relentless downer of a social drama is more admirable than emotionally involving. When her son was born spastic, Walter's mother (Barbara Jefford) considered murdering him, but instead devoted herself to training him to control his wayward body until, as an adult, Walter (Ian McKellen) is capable of holding a janitorial job. As long as Walter whom his mother describes as "a great big mistake of a man" lives with his long-suffering, emotionally distant parents he's able to cope with the outside world. But Walter loses first his father and, later, his mother, and fails to report her death to the authorities. The situation is eventually discovered and Walter is condemned to a mental hospital because England's antiquated social service system doesn't have anyplace else to send him. Because he's far more functional than the institution's other patients, good-natured Walter pitches in to help the staff. Walter's grim routine of care-giving is interrupted by the arrival of June (Sarah Miles) and her infant. A sexual hysteric, June finds herself drawn to sympathetic, ungainly Walter and encourages him to help her escape without her baby. Life on the run exacerbates the inevitable tensions between the fugitive couple, and the impatient June abandons him. Adrift on his own, Walter futilely searches for June, who provided the only affection he's ever known. Can he learn to fend for himself, or is Walter doomed to return to institutional life? McKellen, outfitted with a set of prosthetic teeth, flawlessly inhabits his physically and mentally challenged protagonist. Though reminiscent of Hollywood films like DAVID AND LISA (1962), Stephen Frears' drama doesn't gloss over the grim details of life in the snake pit. Frears, cinematographer Chris Menges, and bit-player Jim Broadbent went on to international renown.
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- Released: 1986
- Rating: NR
- Review: Ian McKellen's meticulous performance in this relentless downer of a social drama is more admirable than emotionally involving. When her son was born spastic, Walter's mother (Barbara Jefford) considered murdering him, but instead devoted herself to traini… (more)