Take a Girl Like You is fascinating to watch in 2018, almost 50 years after it was released. Although there were certainly films being made at the time (and and even earlier) that examined women's struggles with men's sexual aggression, it's hard to imagine the filmmakers actually intended the way the movie plays in an era when sexual harassment and assault is daily news. However, the only part of the film's tone that truly betrays that illusion is the tone of the last thirty seconds before the credits roll. Anchored by strong performances from Mills (in her first "adult" film role) and the dependable scoundrel Oliver Reed, the film depicts a woman who knows what she wants, surrounded by men who seem determined to destroy or defeat that personal principle or resolve (whether or not they intend to be malicious).
The early scenes between Mills and Reed walk a tightrope of awkwardness -- she has to reiterate her lack of consent multiple times before he finally gets the picture, and even then he only seems to give up because he's so flabbergasted by her desire to remain a virgin. Yet, Reed never plays Patrick as outright angry or mean-spirited, successfully navigating the film away from more horrifying territory. Instead, there are a number of courtship scenes where Jenny seems to be trying to figure him out, while he stumbles into the gaze of a bubble-headed blonde (Aimi MacDonald) and sort of ends things with Anna. Meanwhile, a number of other men also offer their affections to Jenny, including Patrick's wealthy and influential friend Julian Ormerod (Noel Harrison), Patrick's dorky Irish colleague (future Raiders of the Lost Ark villain Ronald Lacey!), and, troublingly, her new landlord and aspiring city councilman, Dick Thompson (John Bird), who tries to force himself on her after returning from a night of heavy drinking.
Mills' performance is simple but effective, mostly consisting of watching her figure out how to navigate each advance with grace and precision. She is firm but never cruel, polite but not entirely demure, disinterested in casual sex but not a prude. Were it not for the movie's subtle hint that she's politically conservative and a lengthy speech from Patrick suggesting that she's old-fashioned, she'd seem like a fairly hip and modern woman, who tells Patrick that she knows about the pill but is a romantic at heart. Instead of being a tired chide about sexual repression (or worse, an outright endorsement of Patrick's womaninzing), the movie comes off as sympathetic to her perpetual exasperation and frustration at the crowd of horny guys following around refusing to leave her alone, an emotional state that doesn't seem to have changed much in 50 years.
Instead of endorsing Patrick, the film takes a slightly differing approach, suggesting that both characters need what the other one has to offer: Patrick needs to give up his flings and go for a woman who might actually want to settle down with him, while she would indulge in a form of sexual freedom by trusting him enough to lose her virginity to him without a commitment. Although this reasoning might be a little murky in terms of modern sexual politics, it works well enough for the characters, even as the film takes a turn into analyzing the kind of pressure that Patrick has been placing on Jenny from the first moment they met. The only aforementioned giveaway that the ending, which mostly tracks from a character perspective and arguably maintains the notion of Jenny having the freedom to do what she wants, doesn't quite fit with a modern read is the lighthearted, "wacky" music that plays over it. Womp womp!
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