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Sailor's Return, The (1978)

Courtesy of Fremantlemedia

Main image of Sailor's Return, The (1978)
DirectorJack Gold
Production CompanyAriel Productions
ProducerOtto Plaschkes
ScriptJames Saunders
Original NovelDavid Garnett
CinematographyBrian Tufano

Cast: Tom Bell (William Targett); Shope Shodeinde (Tulip); Clive Swift (Rev Pottock); Ray Smith (Fred Leeke)

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Former sea captain William Targett returns to his native Dorset village. He brings with him his black wife, Tulip, a princess from Dahomey, Africa. Bigotry and ignorance among the villagers leads to tragedy.

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Based on a 1920 novel of the same name by David Garnet, The Sailor's Return (d. Jack Gold, 1978) had a long, tortuous route to production. It was eventually made by Thames TV subsidiary Euston Films and co-financed by the National Film Corporation, making this one of the first genuine joint projects between film and television. The film itself seems to embody this hybrid quality: a small story about the insularity of little England with the broad, visual sweep of a big screen melodrama. One can see how the simplicity and universality of the premise - how a community reacts to a stranger - might have appealed to producer Otto Plaschkes and his backer, veteran television producer Verity Lambert. However, despite the glittering prizes the film received, the story was a little too thin and the ending too bleak to attract a significant paying audience.

The Sailor's Return, set in the early days of the reign of Queen Victoria provides an unusual historical representation of a black person's experience of England. The contrasts are well handled, with young bride Tulip (played by newcomer Shope Shodeinde), struggling under the dual challenges of implacable hostility from the outside and the unravelling of her marriage at home. With the exception of Tom (Mick Ford), the hired help, she doesn't have a single friend or confidante. The narrative represents Tulip as an object throughout, predominantly as a lightning rod for local feeling. Shodeinde is very good in the role and brings a zest and liveliness to the film. Tom Bell is impressive as her husband William Taggart, a brave, honourable man but with an obstinate blindness to the real world troubles around him.

The real star of the film is the English landscape, beautifully rendered by Director of Photography, Brian Tufano. The Sailor's Return was filmed on location at Upper Slaughter in the Cotswolds, which was also the setting for Joseph Andrews (d. Tony Richardson, 1976), a story set in 18th Century England. This particular location provides familiar 'olde England' features of rolling hills and neat stone cottages, picturesque streams and hay fields. However, the relentless charm offensive is offset by an exceptionally acidic story.

Ann Ogidi

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Video Clips
1. African dance (2:22)
2. No-one but you (1:42)
3. It's a business (5:48)
4. Colour of sound (1:41)
Bell, Tom (1932-2006)
Gold, Jack (1930-)
Harris, Julie (1921-)
Lambert, Verity (1935-2007)
Tufano, Brian (1939-)
Euston Films