The only problem with David Jones‘ brilliant screen adaptation of Harold Pinter‘s Betrayal (’83) is Patricia Hodge, who plays Ben Kingsley‘s unfaithful wife. She’s a fine actress but she’s just not hot enough to ignite desire in the mind of the viewer. And given that she inspired Kingsley’s best friend, played by Jeremy Irons, to lead her into an affair that lasts roughly seven years, she should. There’s no trouble believing that Irons is smitten (his declaration of unquenchable love at the finale is classic) but Hodge couldn’t be less arousing. She seems a bit brittle. Too sensible and practical to be good in bed. Not to mention that long pointy nose and those odd watery eyes.
Helen Mirren, however, would have been perfect. She can do refined and haughty to a T, but has always conveyed a ripe sexual undercurrent. She’s obviously a moaner; might even be a screamer. But Betrayal producer Sam Spiegel decided against using her. An IMDB trivia post reports that Hodge and Mirren “were both tested for the role of Emma, but that Spiegel eventually chose Hodge because Mirren’s ‘butt was too big for the part.'” What? There’s no shot of Hodge’s or anyone else’s butt in the film. What this means, probably, is that Spiegel (whose Hollywood nickname was “the velvet octopus” for his tendency to wrap himself around various women in the back of cabs) had a personal thing for slender British ladies with a chaste vibe.
This scene is about Hodge reluctantly confessing to Kingsley that her affair with Irons is happening, and in fact for the previous five years. The writing is magnificent. Kingsley’s insinuations are priceless.
I wrote my first “where the hell is a Betrayal laser disc?” piece in 2005. Since then I’ve been complaining about the absence of a DVD version. A Bluray would be all the better. For years the assumption was that the rights had reverted to the family of producer Sam Spiegel (who died in ’85) and that they were holding back on a deal for some reason. But a 9.19.11 IMDB post claims that Betrayal was allegedly shown on Showtime HD. If that actually happened then the film has been mastered for HD (probably within the past three or four years) which means somebody who owns the Betrayal rights has been allowing for some limited form of digital distribution. So there’s hope, at least.