|Wife and son comfort Ezra|
"I can cry if I want, can't I? It's life, lad, life. It might make you laugh at your age, but one day it'll make you bloody cry." -- Ezra Fitton
Arthur Fitton (Hywel Bennett) has married his sweetheart Jenny (Hayley Mills), but the two are ripped off by a travel agency and can't afford a honeymoon. Worse, Arthur and Jenny must stay in his father's house and the lack of privacy and the resulting tension leads to the marriage not being consummated. When father Ezra (John Mills, playing his daughter's father-in-law) says that he thinks there's something "queer" about it, his wife, Lucy (Marjorie Rhodes), reminds him that Ezra actually took his beloved buddy Billy with them on their honeymoon! Situations aren't always what they seem -- or are they? The Family Way is a charming, beautifully-acted movie that has sparked a debate about its true sub-text, not only because of the honeymoon business but because of the ending, when Ezra breaks down in front of his wife and his other son. People either believe that Ezra was in love with Billy, who vanished, or that Billy is actually Arthur's father, but the solution may be even more complex than that.
The Family Way was based on a 1964 play entitled "All in Good Time" by Bill Naughton, who also wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation. I went back to the original source for some clues to the true meaning of the movie and while probably only the late Irish playwright knows for sure, one can make some surmises. Some reviewers have argued that men can form very close friendships without being gay (in truth, there are heterosexual men who much more enjoy the company of other heterosexual men than their own wives), but the whole business with the honeymoon, plus the rhapsodic expression on Ezra's face whenever he talks about the vanished Billy, says volumes. As for Arthur being Billy's son, there are certain unconfirmed hints at this, although this aspect doesn't really come across in the actors' performances. Then there's the question, would both Ezra and Lucy have been unaware of the boy's parentage for all these years when, let's face it, children tend to look like their parents long before they hit twenty-five? Still, "All in Good Time" is called "a comedy," and that alone can make the absurd seem -- no pun intended -- conceivable (including the honeymoon business). Still there's no getting around a certain romantic despair in Ezra at the end and Naughton writes that "he is a more complex person than he would have anyone know."
So what's the answer? There's a good chance it's both. Imagine how Ezra would feel if the boy he raised was actually the son of the man he'd been in love with (although it's unlikely this relationship was ever consummated). Hence the tears at the end. Some have argued that the whole Ezra-Billy business was dragged in just to make a point -- that just because Arthur is impotent with his wife doesn't make him -- nor Ezra or Billy -- gay (and the film doesn't suggest Arthur is), which Lucy basically says at one point -- but it's dwelt upon quite a bit. One bit of lovely dialogue has Lucy saying "It's a father's duty to help an' protect a lad like that -- not turn on him like the mob would, an' tear his self-respect to ribbons, all over somethin' he had no say in." The play has dialogue in which Lucy explains that having a child took Ezra's mind off of Billy, which could be taken as a man (unsuccessfully) shedding his homosexual past and making the best of a married, heterosexual future. In any case, John Mills [The Wrong Box] gives one of the best performances of his career, Marjorie Rhodes [Hands of the Ripper] is sheer perfection, Bennett and Hayley Mills are wonderful, and there's nice work from Murray Head, who later appeared in Sunday, Bloody, Sunday, as Arthur's younger brother, and Barry Foster [Frenzy] as a co-worker who rides Arthur a bit too much.
The Family Way is more of a comedy-drama than an out and out comedy, and that's probably due to the strong performances, as much as the not-always comical situations. Hywell Benett and Hayley Mills also appeared together in Boulting's Twisted Nerve. NOTE: Naughton's play was filmed in 2012 under the original title. Like Family Way, it is an English film but with an East Indian cast, and appears to be an out and out comedy or farce.
Verdict: The vagaries and heartbreak of love indeed. ***.