The Life of Riley

Alan Ayckbourn

The Life of Riley

The final movie made by French film making legend Alain Resnais is rather like a comfortable old sweater dyed a strange and unexpected new colour.

The Life of Riley has all of the hallmarks of an archetypal play by Sir Alan Ayckbourn. Three ageing couples, two pairings in relationships that are now extremely tired, live not too far apart in the Yorkshire Dales.

To ensure that viewers realise that they are watching a piece written for theatrical staging rather than a film script, Resnais has created a design concept that that looks rather like a series of flimsy play sets and conveys movement between them with cartoon images of their exteriors.

This is cleverly done, since it is not apparent until very late in the day that the action on this occasion is extremely limited with insightful dialogue dominating throughout.

The connecting factor between the six characters, beyond lengthy friendship, is an amateur theatrical production that we follow at a distance from rehearsals to production through the best part of a year.

The catalyst for comedy and drama is the discovery that George Riley, a friend to all concerned has been diagnosed by his doctor as terminally ill with no more than six months to live.

In an effort to make his final months happy, the director is prevailed upon to cast him in the play. Neither director nor dying actor is seen on screen but their collective impact on the comedy is significant.

The oddity of this film for English viewers is that they view characters from Yorkshire speaking in French with subtitles and often using very Gallic body language to convey their considerable emotions.

Whether this is as effective as an equivalent film rendered in the vernacular may be a matter for debate but The Life of Riley is at first gently enjoyable and later on extremely funny as mischievous George wreaks havoc amongst those highly Ayckbournesque middle classes.

With Sir Alan's unerring ability to dissect and almost destroy the marriages of any couple that he creates, George persuades each of the three women, his own wife now living with a farmer and two close friends to make his final few weeks happy on holiday in Tenerife. He even makes a play for his best friend's 16-year-old daughter.

The consequence is devastating and marital disharmony times three can be hilarious and should appeal to anybody who fancies a cinema trip or waits for the DVD release.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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