BETRAYAL -- At the Outer Circle.

"Betrayal," written by Harold Pinter from his original play, moves counterclockwise from sexual stalemate to infatuated opening move. Traveling backward in time, Pinter peels away the layers of a long love affair like an onion, the better to get at the impermanence of love.

Pinteresque wit, lean lines and crisp cadences mark this tight, stage-style production directed by David Jones, formerly of The Royal Shakespeare Company. This thoughty, thorough film is in no hurry, so viewers must be in an adagio kind of mood.

It stars a splendid trio in equally weighted roles: Jeremy Irons, Ben Kingsley and Patricia Hodge as literary agent, publisher and publisher's wife in a triangular relationship, cuckolds all. Irons, a naive romantic, has been having an affair with his best friend's wife. It receives final rites, two years later, as the film begins in a sluggish first scene with Irons and Hodge.

The greater energy comes from Kingsley, a droll catalyst. His sensible character holds it all in and rarely lets go even when wounded. When he and Irons work together, the latter is a jumble of thinly disguised emotions while Kingsley, commanding and unperturbed, guides his partner into a terse "Who's on first" -- Abbott and Costello for the brainy bunch.

Recurring inanities among the tightly knit trio about squash and, on a higher court, Yeats, reveal variations on the theme of betrayal. Hodge (noted British TV actress) and Irons, whose film affair lasts some seven years, develop the petty grievances of long- time marrieds. As she loses interest, he becomes more forgetful. Ah, yes, he remembers it well. Her dress was white; no, it was beige.

Pinter's multiple betrayals are committed goodnaturedly and forgiven graciously by his upper-class cast. In the end, says Kingsley, each character betrays his own aspirations more than he betrays the others.