Later this year, the BBC will be screening an adaptation of The Go-Between. It is a classic tale by L.P. Hartley, and it features Vanessa Redgrave and Jim Broadbent in the lead. It is sure to be a good programme, one of the many Great Britain regularly contributes to, to Hollywood as original televised theatrical productions of beloved stories. But until then, we are reminiscing what it has been like the last time this story was brought to life. British actress Julie Christie starred in the 1971 film of the same name and the story closely followed the novel, save for some minute alterations in the opening dialogues, which I dare say, did it more good than harm – some of the details can be too insensitively explicit for most of the audience.
The story of The Go-Between is a love story and a young messenger boy. Leo Colston, is the young messenger boy, and he initially has a youthful crush on Marian, the female protagonist. Leo, as the protagonist, narrates the story in his pension age, despite the psychological scars it has left upon him, from the opening scene. Born into poverty and constant bullying, Leo manages to enrol in a boarding school – here, he keeps a diary and interprets astrological symbols and attempts to connect them to astronomy because he has a great unquenchable thirst for knowledge. It is the year 1900, the beginning of a new century and Leo is only thirteen years old, residing in the strict school environment.
Enraged by the bullying, Leo, as fate would have it, miraculously unknown to him, reaps revenge on them – they get badly injured after falling off a roof, leading all the other boys in the school to believe that he might be a magician. Leo does include an account of his time in school in his diary but his adventures come to a sudden halt when he goes to Norfolk to spend a summer there as a guest at Brandham Hall, the home of his childhood school friend, Marcus Maudsley. At Marcus’ home, he feels out of place amongst all of the affluence but the hosts are very welcoming, kind and even strangely enamoured with the new guest. Leo meets Marian there, who he is happy to help with her romantic troubles because he develops a youthful crush on her. He doesn’t understand why Marian cannot marry her lover and pretty soon, the crush fades away and gets replaced by an intoxicating cloak of secrecy. Ted is a poor farmer and he has fallen for Marian, but there is no social future in the relationship. Marian knows this but does not hesitate to reciprocate her feelings, despite the fact that she is soon to be married to someone from her social class, a wealthy Viscount.
Leo gets traumatised at the thought of leaving the two lovers to their own devices because if the Viscount ever heard a word of what was going on, it would shatter Brandham Hall’s public image in the eyes of the rural county. He is no longer interested in being part of this dangerous game but cannot untangle himself from this cloak of secrecy. Sex, lies and deception weaves itself into the portal that Leo agrees to be an interceptor in, but eventually neither of the party walks away unscathed. Ted commits suicide by shotgun, upon Marian’s family discovering her secret romance, and Leo walks away from the summer residence, deeply scarred.
Leo ages, emotionally stiff, and returns to Brandham Hall, to find Marian a widowed lady, formerly married to the Viscount in the end. She lives in a cottage and the Hall has been turned into an old-girls school. His friend, Marcus, died during WWI and the older Marian, gets tempted to once more manipulate him to act as a go-between for her. The most shocking aspect of the story is the lingering ending – Marian, seems unable to deal with the grief of Ted’s death, so much so, that over fifty years later, she still imagines there is a sliver of hope.