Although Harold Pinter adapted his 1970 play for this television presentation , even the intriguing casting of John Malkovich, Kate Nelligan and Miranda Richardson doesn’t make “Old Times” less of a slog.
Staged by Simon Curtis, the performances are almost unrelievedly mannered, and the added intimacies of tight close-ups, telegraphic music and portentous cuts heighten the superrealist effect but not the emotional wallop the stage play can release. It all makes for 90 very long minutes in which Pinter comes off as Rod Serling for the Me Decade.
“Old Times” is a lovers triangle as only this playwright could imagine it. The play is set in the country home of Deely (Malkovich) and Kate (Nelligan), where they are visited by Kate’s oldest friend, Anna (Richardson), absent 20 years.
In a series of exchanges that suggest endlessly shifting alliances over the course of the evening, the only thing that becomes clear is that Deely and Anna are battling for control over, ownership of or title to Kate’s affections.
They recall their first meeting, their salad days — each, of course, dredging up the kinds of different but conflicting “facts” that put memory itself in question. This is the material Pinter made his early name on, a tremendously theatrical, slightly menacing variation, after all, on “I Remember It Well” jazzed up with the addition of a visitor who threatens to upset domestic tranquility.
To be sure, each member of this stellar trio has a moment or two, as when Richardson and Malkovich fracture Cole Porter, the Gershwins, et al., as Nelligan listens — at first bemusedly but then with accruing disjunction as the atmosphere grows increasingly sinister.
Nelligan is especially riveting throughout; she alone among the three has a mesmeric relationship with the television camera (remember “Therese Raquin”?
Otherwise, the trademark pauses, long reaction shots and jagged music add up to what could easily be passed off as a Pinter parody. This is one for the archivists.