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Close My Eyes (1991)

Courtesy of Channel 4 Television

Main image of Close My Eyes (1991)
DirectorStephen Poliakoff
Production CompaniesBeambright Productions
 Film Four International
ProducerThérèse Pickard
ScreenplayStephen Poliakoff
Director of PhotographyWitold Stok
MusicMichael Gibbs

Cast: Alan Rickman (Sinclair Bryant), Clive Owen (Richard Gillespie), Saskia Reeves (Natalie Gillespie), Karl Johnson (Colin), Lesley Sharp (Jessica), Kate Gartside (Paula)

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After being brought up separately when their parents were divorced, a brother and sister embark on an incestuous relationship over a long, hot summer.

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"Strange bond", Richard whispers to his sister Natalie, in Stephen Poliakoff's second film as director. The film delves into hidden family secrets, dramatising the escalation of an incestuous relationship between a brother and sister who have been recently reacquainted. In its portrayal of forbidden love, the film recalls John Ford's 17th Century tragedy, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, as well as Ian McEwan's novel The Cement Garden, filmed in 1993 (Germany/UK/France, d. Andrew Birkin).

The lack of prurience in representing the relationship is revealing. Poliakoff portrays the two siblings as willing adults, showing the pleasure and pain of their relationship, while making it seem strangely natural. At the start, Natalie is unhappy in a series of unfulfilling jobs while Richard immerses himself in a typically 1980s lifestyle - the pursuit of individual pleasure and profit. Two years later, their positions are almost reversed. Natalie marries a wealthy entrepreneur, while Richard's ambitions are dwarfed by his addiction to his sister.

Poliakoff uses the taboo of unconventional sexual behaviour as a metaphor for the moral and political irresponsibility of the Thatcherite 1980s. He highlights the ambiguous nature of economic progress and its effects on individuals and relationships. In an acknowledgement of the new sexual climate, Richard's boss, Colin, is suffering with AIDS.

Visually, Close My Eyes is remarkable, characterised by Luciana Arrighi's production designs and highlighting Poliakoff's interest in architecture and design. They use recognisable landmarks to create visions of London and rural Surrey as reassuringly familiar and yet strangely alien. The film captures the atmosphere of an archetypal English summer - the sun reflecting off glass buildings in the city, garden parties, picnics by the river and cricket matches. The scenes of the Surrey countryside and the River Thames in Richmond are illuminated by a beautiful golden sunlight. "It was like being inside a colour supplement", remarks Richard after visiting Natalie's country house.

The erotically charged emotions and dark undercurrents behind the siblings' relationship hover just below this golden, glowing surface. The film closes with the end of the affair - a summer of self-indulgence and irresponsibility has transformed into autumnal reflection, mirroring the changes in wider society at the turn of the decade. From the hedonism and widespread commercialism associated with the 1980s, the film looks forward to a more reflective and inclusive 1990s.

Chris Allison

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Video Clips
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Extract 2 (2:40)
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Extract 4 (1:34)
Song of Songs (2005)
Owen, Clive (1964-)
Poliakoff, Stephen (1952-)
Rickman, Alan (1946-)
Channel 4 and Film