The Triple Echo (which is also ridiculously known as Soldier in Skirts) marked the cinematic directorial debut of Michael Apted who, up until that point, was more known for his documentary work on television such as the groundbreaking Granada series 7 Up and 14 Up etc.
This marks my second film this week which was based on a novel by H.E. Bates (the first being Dulcima) and the plot concerns a young, fey and cowardly private named Barton (Brian Deacon) who meets Glenda Jackson's tough farmer Alice during WWII. Alice is having to make do on the farm all by herself since her husband in the RAF has been captured by the Japanese. Naturally lonely and hurting, Alice seeks solace with Barton and the two become lovers. Loathe to return to duty and leave Alice behind, Barton deserts and remains at the farm dressed in women's clothing to pass himself off to prying eyes and gossip in the village as Alice's sister.
Enter Oliver Reed in the second of what was to become three films alongside Jackson (the first Women In Love and the third was to be The Class Of Miss MacMichael) as a coarse and brutish cockney army sergeant searching the countryside for the AWOL Barton. Discovering the farm, he cannot believe his luck stumbling across two unattached sisters. Initially attracted to Alice, he transfers his attention to her 'sister' when Alice proves too cold - allowing for a wonderfully flinty performance from Jackson alongside this great sparring partner.
The humour of Bates' writing comes to the fore with the ensuing situation here but thankfully not in a broad manner; not only is the situation of the lovers having to hide their love in such a manner funny/peculiar enough, but when you add Reed's sergeant into the equation, trying his luck whilst completely unaware that the object of his affection is a man then it becomes even more uncomfortably amusing, with Reed offering just the right amount of comedy in his character's ignorance. It really is a strong performance from Reed, all swagger as befits someone of such rank and institutionalised machismo, but nowhere near the broad caricatures he would often start to lazily display towards the tail end of the 70s.
The drama comes to a head when, the cooped up and frustrated Barton defies Alice to go to a Christmas eve dance at the local army camp, accompanied by the sergeant whose amorous advances mean the game is soon up. What follows next is as abrupt and as tragic as the similar concluding moments to Bates' Dulcima.
Apted's direction does occasionally show up his inexperience and it could be argued that either he, or the script itself, squanders some of the storyline's potential, but he would certainly go on to make better, more skillful films and is blessed here with a strong trio of leads and a nice depiction of the English countryside that HE Bates is so famous for.
The Triple Echo is available to watch in full on YouTube.