As its title may suggest, LOYALTIES is about friendship and devotion, a theme that movies refrain from treating except most mundanely. Director Wheeler and screenwriter Riis have created a complex and involved story in which the plot is secondary to the delineation of the characters and the
changes that occur in their lives. In the backwoods Alberta community of Lac La Biche, Welsh and Wooldridge are a well-to-do English couple resettled from their traditional realm of propriety and tradition to a land of hearty settlers and struggling Indians. Although Welsh's new position at the
local hospital is the accepted reason for their move, there is obviously more to their relocation than this (not completely revealed until the end of the movie). Wooldridge comes from an upper-crust British family that instilled in her the rather snobbish values common to her class. The importance
she places on decorum and propriety is wholly out of place in a community where the locals speak their minds regardless of the impressions they create. Wooldridge feels completely isolated, unable to find a friend among the catty doctors' wives or even with her busy husband. To help maintain their
new home, Welsh hires the half-breed Cardinal as a maid for Wooldridge. Cardinal has just lost her job as a barmaid at a country-and-western bar because of a fight with her unruly common-law husband. After this brawl she immediately left her husband, taking her brood of kids to live with her
mother. Although skeptical of working for a snobbish English woman, Cardinal's desperate need for money forces her to accept the position. At first Wooldridge and Cardinal are at complete odds with each other, but they soon develop an intimate friendship that has seemingly always been absent from
Wooldridge's life. The emotional openness and frankness of Cardinal and her family is a sharp contrast to the coldness of Wooldridge's.
But this new friendship is quickly threatened when Welsh's actual reason for hiring Cardinal--his lustful attraction to her teenage daughter--is revealed. His attack on an adolescent girl in England was the real reason for the family's move to this remote region. Wooldridge has painstakingly
attempted to hide the dark secret that has almost torn her family apart. Her 11-year-old son, who witnessed Welsh's deviousness, remained in England at a private school, refusing even to acknowledge his father. On one particularly stormy night, Welsh assaults Cardinal's daughter. The girl's
screams bring her mother, who threatens to shoot Welsh with a shotgun. Wooldridge hits her on the head with a brick, however, before the maid fires a shot. The next morning Wooldridge reports her husband's action to the police, the need to protect the decorum of her marriage having taken second
place to her friendship with Cardinal. The preachy stance that is the curse of most social-consciousness films is absent from LOYALTIES. Instead attention is paid to an honest depiction of the characters and the emotional changes they experience. No one is portrayed as wholly good or evil. All are
represented as normal people whose personalities and needs are formed by their environment. Even the husbands, for all their poor treatment of their wives, have their good sides. After losing Cardinal, her husband makes a sincere effort to attract his wife back by bending over backwards to prove
his love. Although Cardinal has adamantly refused ever to see him again, her affection is stronger than the hurt she nurses. By the end of the film she admits to her willingness and unacknowledged need to accept him back. Welsh also is initially shown as a likable man who will do anything to keep
his family happy. His inability to do so stems mainly from Wooldridge's reluctance to face the serious problems in her marriage.
The insightful handling of the changes that Wooldridge experiences provides the backbone for the development of LOYALTIES. In this respect the film becomes a criticism of the restrictions imposed by class structures. Wooldridge's ability to overcome her stifling sense of decorum to establish an
emotional bond with a member of a lower class opens her to the friendship she so needs, as well as instigating the changes salutary for her family. LOYALTIES was the first feature for director Wheeler, whose other credits include the popular television drama "A Change of Heart," whose script was
also written by Sharon, and the award-winning documentary A WAR STORY. Riis based much of Wooldridge's character on her own experiences as an isolated newcomer to Lac La Bishe in 1975.
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- Released: 1986
- Rating: NR
- Review: As its title may suggest, LOYALTIES is about friendship and devotion, a theme that movies refrain from treating except most mundanely. Director Wheeler and screenwriter Riis have created a complex and involved story in which the plot is secondary to the de… (more)