"WETHERBY" is writer-director David Hare's first movie, and judging by this, he must also be the one who picks out the queen's hats. He's conceived a psychological drama that's preposterous, perplexing and frumpy all at once.
Vanessa Redgrave stars as a love-starved schoolteacher in a fictional British backwater called Wetherby, where the tweedy set dwells. She gives a dinner party for a few of her faculty friends. Oddly, nobody notices a peculiar impostor, who fixes a leak in the roof, declaims on the meaning of angst, has a few brandies and then returns the next day to shoot himself in the cottage kitchen.
The suicide baffles the police and the teacher, who begins to have flashbacks about a failed girlhood love affair. A second and third cast of characters enter (with lovely Joely Richardson as the young Redgrave), and the stoomes a nonlinear muddle of past and present plots and extraneous subplots, with ideas so tiresomely invoked and characters so thin that we don't particularly care about the corpse or poor wan Redgrave.
Nevertheless, a handsome police inspector begins an investigation that includes not only the case but also his midlife crisis. He learns that the victim (Tim McInnerny as a British Tony Perkins type) was described by friends as having "a central disfiguring blankness." And we begin to get that ourselves right about now.
But wait. There's more. Next, a mourner, an emotionally detached girlfriend, drops by the Redgrave cottage for the funeral, but doesn't leave right away. She romps about in her underwear like a girl in a French movie. And makes the schoolteacher turn on the television to get connected with the "real" world.
Despite all these comings and goings, Redgrave does not lock the door. It seems to me that none of this need have happened if only she had purchased a deadbolt lock. But as she says, "No matter how well you lock things up. Sometimes you have to let someone in." How true. How true.
The characters roam about aimlessly, the situation is dour, and the conclusion is obtuse, if not totally obliterated by Hare's pretensions. And even those who love Redgrave, who is appropriately distracted and disturbed, would be hard put to tolerate this self-important, unsatisfying first film.
WETHERBY (R) -- At the Circle MacArthur and the KB Janus.