Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
This fascinating little drama starts with a bang but ends up concerning itself with subtle
intangibles in human relationships. David Hare's masterfully-directed screenplay examines modern
despair and personal disquietude more effectively than a dozen art films about alienation. The
remarkable cast includes Judi Dench and Ian Holm, great actors who would reach their heights of
fame later on in their careers. The underused Vanessa Redgrave shares a role (across a 30 year
gap in time) with her own daughter, Joely Richardson.
In the small town of Weatherby, schoolteacher Jean Travers (Vanessa Redgrave) lives
alone but seems to have found a peace that eludes her married friends. Then one evening an
uninvited guest ends up at one of her dinner parties; the next day he returns. Without as much
as giving a hint as to why, he shoots himself dead in Jean's kitchen. He's John Morgan (Tim McInnerny),
a student with almost no connection to Jean or her friends. The police know the death was a
suicide but detective Mike Langdon (Stuart Wilson) seeks to unravel the mystery anyway, arranging
for a college acquaintance of Morgan's, Karen Creasy (Suzanna Hamilton) to appear at Jean's doorstep.
But, like everyone else in the film, Langdon is disturbed by the suicide because it taps into a
lingering doubt in his own personal life.
Weatherby looks at a placid Yorkshire town and finds not a Peyton Place of scandal
but a more credible center of unease and disappointment. The carefully modulated screenplay
starts with people expressing their acute sense of powerlessness by remarking on how Margaret
Thatcher is ruining the country. Roger and Verity Braithwaite (Tom Wilkinson
and Marjorie Yates) turn a simple discussion into an argument, and Stanley and Marcia Pilborough
(Ian Holm and Judi Dench) avoid interaction by retreating into forced attitudes or strong
drink. Only the single Jean Travers seems a pillar of inner strength, an illusion forced to the
surface by a meaningless violent incident.
The strength of the show is that the behaviors of its characters are so interesting, we don't mind
that the loose ends of the mystery do not neatly resolve themselves. Learning
more about these people is reward enough. The proceedings also never become maudlin or depressing.
Through flashbacks, we learn about Jean's youthful romance with a young soldier (where she's played
with equal clarity by Joely Richardson) and also about hidden details of Jean's one encounter
with John Morgan before his suicide.
Weatherby makes no distinction in age or social class for its portrait of modern alienation.
The honest policeman Langdon doesn't fit in with the rowdy office games of his station mates. Librarian
Marcia Pilborough seeks solace in feigned cheerfulness and seems to enjoy being a bureaucratic
obstruction to patrons unfamiliar with library rules. Her lawyer-husband Stanley is acutely aware of
the emptiness in his life. All of these people are able to connect with Jean, who is revealed to be
just as emotionally wounded.
The surprise is that the 'younger generation' has reached the same dead-end much more quickly. One
of Jean's students is disenchanted with school and education, and after Jean is unable to provide
reassurance leaves for London in hope of a better life. John Morgan's soul-sickness is a much more
serious problem. The disturbed man seeks honesty and truth from women but mostly stalks and harasses
them, as if he were owed reciprocation to his overtures. The previous subject of his attention,
Karen Creasy, is equally unstable: Overreacting to Morgan's emotional demands, she becomes
hostile when anyone gets too close.
Director Hare reveals much more detail with his carefully paced script. We're always
attentive and each scene rewards us with a new puzzle piece. The film makes a big
distinction between the freshness (ignorance?) of young love and the later onset of emotional
desperation. Weatherby is about human isolation and maladjustment, yet its characters are
The timeframe of the film is somewhat confusing. Jean is only 50-something, which would make her
between four and eight years old during WW2. The young lovers talk about seeing The Third Man,
a picture from four years after the war. Yet the young man is going off to be stationed in Malaya.
Either the critics have something confused, or David Hare is deliberately mixing up dates in the
same way Stanley and Marcia Pilborough say people can't even remember who Nixon was, ten years
after his resignation.
Home Vision's DVD of Weatherby is a fine enhanced transfer with rich color. The mono
track bursts to life with Nick Bricat and Tony Britten's lush score. A couple of lines are
difficult to understand but the audio is clear overall. There are no extras except for some text
bios; Brian McFarlane provides a good liner note essay.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Supplements: Director's introduction; essay by Brian McFarlane
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 18, 2004
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson