Amy is a domestic drudge, her life’s work being to look after her husband and son and to create a homely idyll. Trouble is she’s really not very good at it. Her house is a tip, she burns the breakfast, she’s brash and loud and listens to music turned up to top volume because she’s afraid of the silence. Married to her husband Jimbo for 20 years, he finds her ordinary, especially when compared to his beautiful secretary, Georgie. Amy wears her dressing gown all day, it’s useful: it can double up as a cloth or a tea towel, and she rarely leaves the flat so why bother getting changed? Georgie on the other hand is immaculate, and you know that if she owns a dressing gown it is certainly not for wiping the breakfast dishes with.
Jimbo decides he is going to leave Amy for Georgie. In Georgie’s eyes he’s wonderful, and they feel madly in love. She calls him by his surname, Preston, and makes him feel like things are possible, that he could get a better job, and live a life free from drudgery. She feels that she is saving him so that they can live happily ever after. Amy and Jimbo’s relationship however shows how naïve this thinking is, and what happily ever after means in real life.
The claustrophobic camera work is very effective, with cluttered scenes shot from the shelves and from inside the airing cupboard capturing how Amy is trapped by her domestic surroundings. This also makes the scene when she actually leaves the confines of her flat all the more heartbreaking. She goes out to get her hair done in the hope of winning Jimbo back. She has to borrow from her son and pawn her engagement ring because she has no money of her own. As soon as she steps from the salon with her nice new hair it starts raining, she can’t get on the bus, people won’t let her shelter from the storm anywhere, and we watch her hopes get washed down the drain.
When the three come face to face Amy says to Georgie, “You know a thousand things about him? I know a million. That’s what being married means: to know a man inside out and still love him.” The way that our sympathies shift from woman to woman as they express their love for this fairly unremarkable, but never demonized, man is masterfully handled.
Sad and downbeat, this probably isn’t a film to watch if you’re about to get married and are imagining 40 years of bliss. It believes in love, but it also does not shy away from the sacrifice and relentless ordinariness of a long term relationship. Woman in a Dressing Gown may be over 50 years old, but it is much more modern and truthful than the majority of relationship-based films released today.
Woman in a Dressing Gown is released in cinemas on 27 July, and will be available on DVD for the first time on 13 August. Sylvia Syms will be saying a few words in introduction to a screening at the Curzon Mayfair on Sunday 29 July, with tickets available here.