The Long Roads

Also with: John Buick, Paul Morrow, Paul Sykes.

Also with: John Buick, Paul Morrow, Paul Sykes.

A portrait of a callous, unfeeling, economically desperate modern Britain provides the backdrop for a tender old-age love story in “The Long Roads.” BBC-TV production makes mostly obvious points and proceeds at a deliberate pace, but is nicely acted and relates a tale that is almost unavoidably affecting. Small-scale production values and no-name cast will restrict this to tube exposure, except for limited fest dates.

Kitty and Peter, an old couple living in the stark splendor of the Isle of Skye, decide to make the rounds of the British Isles to visit their five far-flung offspring. Their first destination is Glasgow, where one of their sons , an undercover cop, resides in a squalid public housing project with a cheating wife.

Next stop is Liverpool, where economic conditions are so bad that their married daughter Fiona has been reduced to giving full-body massages to visiting businessmen at a hotel.

In suburban Peterborough, Roddie and Pat are living in comparative comfort but, like the previous couples, they display open wonderment at why the folks have dropped in to see them and barely disguised resentment at them for having done so (it’s never explained, however, why the oldsters haven’t called ahead to warn their sprigs of their imminent arrival).

By the time Kitty and Peter arrive in London, it is clear that writer John McGrath is presenting a diagram of British society and economy from the bottom up. He also reveals the driving force behind the couple’s journey — Kitty is ill, probably terminally so, and they want to see the children one last time.

In London, affluent daughter Deirdre and her hubby put Mum and Dad up at a posh hotel, where Peter hits a winning streak at gambling. Another punky daughter turns up to round out the family, although she looks far too young to be Kitty’s daughter.

Pic is hurt by the children’s casual disregard for their parents, which is almost too extreme to believe, and by the now quite familiar depiction of Blighty as a country well on its way to ruin.

But the old couple’s rediscovery of their mutual love in the waning days of their life together is quietly touching. A good charge of emotion and regret lies behind their recollection of how Peter, a sailor professionally, left his wife behind for months at a time to raise their brood, and this partial abandonment is no doubt somewhat to blame for the detachment felt by their kids.

Aiding considerably in putting over the feelings of lost moments and renewed romance are the performances of Robert Urquhart and, particularly, Edith MacArthur in the leads. Their playing is discreet and precise, and their growing physical affection for one another never seems cloying or forced under Tristram Powell’s naturalistic direction.

Pic is a minor-key effort all the way, and 16mm format doesn’t enhance it as a theatrical experience.

The Long Roads

(Drama -- Color -- 16mm)

  • Production: A BBC Television production. Produced by Peter Kendal. Executive producers, John McGrath, Mark Shivas. Directed by Tristram Powell. Screenplay, McGrath.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Steve Saunderson; editor, Roy Sharman; music, John Altman; art direction, Jim Holloway; costume design, Elizabeth Waller; associate producer, Daphne Spink; assistant director, Dermot Boyd; casting, Irene Lamb. Reviewed at the AFI/L.A. Intl. Film Festival, June 13, 1993. Running time: 92 min.
  • With: Kitty ... Edith MacArthur Peter ... Robert Urquhart Fiona ... Michelle Farley Roddie ... Kevin McMonagle Deirdre ... Maureen Beattie
  • Music By: