Analysis of a Scene IV: A Month in the Country

Admin: Ahhh.  A Month in the Country, the odd, little film where nothing much happens, but lives are completely changed nonetheless.   It is watchable and re-watchable.  The following scene illustrates why.  There is very little action and the dialogue is sparse to say the least.  But, it is full of so many little nuances that you can be completely captivated by it.

RF:  I totally agree.  It’s a quiet little film, but there’s really a lot going on if you’re paying attention.  There’s a lot that isn’t said aloud, yet still makes itself heard.  And Mr. Malahide makes the Reverend J.G. Keach quite the fascinating character.

Alice: I just found Mr. Birkin on the doorstep.  You couldn’t hear the bell.

Keach:  No, I suppose not.  At least I didn’t hear it.

Interrupted while practicing the violin... in their very, very bare house.

Interrupted while practicing the violin…
in their very, very bare house.

RF:  Keach appears rather unpleasantly surprised and/or possibly embarrassed to be caught practicing, especially by Birkin.  He’s not wearing his jacket, which means he’s vulnerable and effectively “naked” – without his armour, if you will.  He seems very isolated and lonely, playing his violin in that extremely barren room – mind you, all of the Keachs’ rooms are barren, which I’m guessing is meant to suggest something about their marriage as well.  However, he does play the violin very sweetly, and we have to give props to Mr. Malahide for actually learning some Mendelssohn for this scene (even if they didn’t use as much of it as they should).

Admin:  And you have to wonder: Did he really not hear the bell?  He seems embarrassed and adds the “at least I didn’t hear it” so emphatically.  Perhaps he heard, but wasn’t totally aware of what it was as he was so engrossed with his music.  I do wish we’d got to see more his playing, the brief glimpse we were allowed certainly hinted at someone who is miles away with Mendelssohn.

Alice [to Birkin]:  We don’t have many visitors, you see.

Keach: No, one gets out of the habit of listening for them.

[uncomfortable pause]

Isolated and alone together Patrick Malahide in A Month In the Country

Isolated and alone together

RF:  Why would anyone visit them when they don’t have any furniture??  😉  Interestingly, Keach and Alice both maintain the polite fiction that they might actually have visitors while it’s plainly obvious that they never do.  The characters’ placement in the room emphasizes their discomfort and awkwardness; they unconsciously form an almost exact triangle with a good six to ten feet of physical separation between them.  Personal space taken to the extreme!

Admin:  So awkward!  And Rev. Keach is completely incapable of saying something obvious like: “How are you Mr. Birkin.” He doesn’t even make a polite inquiry about the progress of the restoration.  Of course, we know Keach is opposed to revealing the artwork so maybe that is why.  That is a very good observation about them forming a triangle.  I like the video capture that goes with it.  You can really feel the awkwardness.

Alice:  I was just saying to Mr. Birkin, such a big house for the two of us, isn’t it?

Keach:  Yes!  Yes it is, really.

Alice:  The rooms, we don’t know how to fill them, do we?

Keach:  Ah, no.  No, that’s true.  [studies his shoes]

[uncomfortable pause]

Alice: "The rooms, we don't know how to fill them, do we?" Keach: "Ah, no, that's true." OMG, most awkward and uncomfortable conversation ever...

Alice: “The rooms, we don’t know how to fill them,
do we?”
Keach: “Ah, no. No, that’s true.”

RF:  Alice is trying very hard to make the usual polite small talk, but she seems to be inadvertently revealing a lot more about the Keachs’ marriage than she might intend.  The answer seems obvious – fill the house with furniture, or children, or heck, even cats or dogs – but it seems like the Keachs are doomed to their echoing, empty house (maybe it provides really good acoustics for violin practice?).  Keach appears entirely discomfited not only by the situation, but also by the attempted small talk.  His replies are clipped and do not invite further comment; he’s absolutely no good at it, to put it mildly.  I kind of love the way Keach studies his shoes in a vain attempt at disguising his unease.  Eye contact must be avoided at all costs!

RF:  I also noticed that we still have character movement going on.  As Birkin moves just slightly closer to Keach, Keach immediately moves away so that the equidistant triangle of separation is maintained.  No one wants to be too close to anyone in this scene, and the Keachs are the farthest from each other.

Admin:  I like the way Keach moves away, with his head so close to the ground.  It is almost has if he is counting something.  I think he throws Mrs. Keach off a bit when he takes the deliberate turn to the fireplace.  He could have used that moment to reinforce the fact that they are a married couple, but instead he does his best to position himself away from everybody.  He probably wishes he could just crawl into the fireplace and hide.

Alice:  Except for that.  [Indicates large… armoire-looking thingie]  At least it’s big enough.  We don’t know what it is or what it does, it seems to be part of something else.  My husband’s father bought it at an auction sale because nobody else wanted it.  He helped fill up the room, didn’t he?

Keach:  That’s right, he did.  [odd grimacing half-smile]

[uncomfortable pause]

Alice points out a piece of furniture her father-in-law gave them: "Helped fill up the room, didn't he?" Keach: "That's right, he did." So if Casaubon had fewer conversational skills... he'd be this guy.

Alice points out a piece of furniture her father-in-law gave them: “He helped fill up the room, didn’t he?”
Keach: “That’s right, he did.”

RF:  I find it a bit odd that Alice refers to her “husband’s father” rather than her “father-in-law”, but maybe I’m reading too much into it.  The armoire-looking thing is large and dark and stands out like a sore thumb in the otherwise nearly empty room (music stands are utilitarian, therefore okay).  But even though it takes up space, it’s still not functional.  I suppose one could also read something into the fact that it required the father-in-law’s intervention to help fill the empty room, even if his contribution was ultimately useless.

RF:  Keach is barely participating in the conversation; he appears as uncomfortable in this situation as it’s possible for a human being to be.  There are lots of awkward pauses and “dead air” between Alice’s lines, which he isn’t helping to fill with his clipped replies.  For someone whose occupation would normally involve a lot of interpersonal communication – he is a clergyman, after all, and you’d think his parishioners might come to him for advice once in a while – he doesn’t seem to have a lot of social skills when it comes to his own life.

Admin:  Also interesting is the “because nobody else wanted it” line.  I can’t help but wonder if that is meant to be symbolic somehow. 🙂  And why does Keach *almost* start to give a smile as he lifts his head when affirming his father’s contribution? But before he can complete it, it turns into the miserable grimace.   It seems like a look of brief interest followed instantaneously by crushing misery.

RF:  That’s true, “because nobody else wanted it” could refer to a number of things.  Alice was orphaned when she married Keach, so it could be that…  Or it could be Keach’s desirability as a husband.  I was wondering if they were referring to Keach’s father in the past tense because he’d died, which could explain Keach’s reaction.

Admin:  Which could suggest he deeply misses his father.  It was such a depressing look; I really do wonder where it came from.

Birkin:  I just came to sort out the question of my money.

Keach [a bit more alertly]:  The money!  I suppose you brought a receipt, Mr. Birkin.

Birkin:  A receipt?

Keach:  For the money.  I sent Mossop with your installment this morning.  Didn’t he give it to you?

Birkin:  No, we must have passed each other.

"I suppose you brought a receipt, Mr. Birkin."

“The money! I suppose you brought a receipt, Mr. Birkin.”

RF:  Keach visibly brightens and begins to take an interest when the topic turns to money; clearly he feels he’s on safer ground with a more pragmatic topic.  Thank goodness talk has steered away from awkward commentary about how empty his house is!  Of course, by requesting a receipt (I was going to say “demanding”, but he’s not actually doing that – yet) we see that he’s still fiercely guarding the church’s slim assets that are paying for Birkin’s labour.

Admin:  On the video clip below, if you pause it at the 1:31 mark, you can see that Keach gives Alice a sharp look.  He is probably thinking he could have been on the firmer footing of finances all along rather than going on about empty rooms and weird furniture!  It is a really good expression he gives her.  It is like the warning look a parent gives a child who is being awkward in public.  I like how he becomes more animated by waving his violin’s bow when he mentions Mossop and the money.

RF:  And that look might also suggest the father figure type of relationship he may have with Alice, which is only barely hinted at in the original J.L. Carr novel.  The novel is actually pretty thin about outlining characters’ motivations; they’re fleshed out a lot more here than they are in the text.

Keach:  Well, perhaps you’d like to see the rest of the house?

Birkin:  No thank you, I have to get back to work.

[uncomfortable pause]

RF:  I suppose this is Keach’s one attempt at trying to be hospitable.  Yeah, can’t blame Birkin for turning down that offer.  He already knows that all he’s going to see are a lot more empty rooms with maybe a couple of chairs in them.  Given the Keachs’ surplus room, it seems rather doubly parsimonious that Birkin has to sleep in the church’s belfry.

Admin:  Well, Keach does give Alice a glance when he makes the offer, so he is obviously expecting her to guide the tour solo while he plays his violin. You can sense his relief that it is now just about over.  And, yes, after that scene, you really have to wonder at Keach’s lack of hospitality.  We know he doesn’t want Birkin there, but it does seem terribly uncharitable that he didn’t even consider putting him up in one of their many empty rooms.  Plus, it would have been a good way to keep an eye on Birkin and maybe wrest a little extra control on the project.  Remember,  Keach was not on the committee that was to oversee it.  An oversight, of course. 😉  So, not only do we learn how truly anti-social he is, particularly for a church man, we also learn that he lacks a certain cunning.

RF:  He was rather resentful over the “oversight” thing, wasn’t he?  😀  Maybe his desire for privacy overrode any sort of political astuteness he might have had.  I suppose he didn’t want to go to the extra expense of feeding and housing Birkin, even if it would’ve meant he had an inside track on what was going on with the mural.

Admin:  I felt so sorry for him being left of the committee.  Obviously, no one wants him on it, and deep-down he knows.

Alice:  Did you come by the wood?

Birkin:  No, the road.

Alice:  Oh, well, I’ll show you the way through the wood.

[uncomfortable pause as they begin to leave]

RF:  Obviously Alice doesn’t have to show Birkin the way through the wood – he knows how to find his way back to the church and could probably figure it out without her help – but she does seem just a tad eager to get out of there.  Keach also appears eager to get back to his practicing; he doesn’t offer Birkin so much as a “see you later,” nor indeed does he say anything of that sort to Alice.  To be fair, Alice doesn’t take any leave of Keach later in the scene, either.

Admin:  When Keach should be saying “bye” he just mashes his lips together and saunters back to his violin stand.  I think he knows he ought to say something else, but it just doesn’t come easy to him.

RF:  I think he’s hoping they’ll hurry up and leave so he can get back to his practicing.  All of this required interaction must be very wearing.  😉

Keach:  When are you going to show my wife the painting?  She’s very anxious to see it.

Alice [brightly]:  Oh, I’ve already seen it.

Keach:  Have you.  I hadn’t realized.  [slight Glare of Death]

[uncomfortable pause as Alice and Birkin exit]

Saying he hadn't realized Alice had already seen the mural - and looking just a wee bit ticked about it.

“Have you. I hadn’t realized.”

RF:  Aha, so Keach’s lack of communication skills appears to extend to his relationship with Alice as well!  Considering the dearth of things for them to talk about, one would think that the latest news about the mural would be a hot topic in the Keach household, but it seems it’s just another thing that they don’t discuss.  It appears that they lead a very barren existence indeed, not even bound together by common interests or… dare I say it… love.  It really makes me wonder why Alice, who appears to be a warm and outgoing person, would marry this guy in the first place.  And yet, given the beauty he’s creating with his violin when we first see him, he does seem to have some warmth and artistic feeling hiding in his soul somewhere.

Admin:  It is a very serene piece of music he is playing.  Despite his outward coldness, you do get the feeling of melancholy from him which suggests something very human and soulful.  The easiest guess is that she was marrying a father figure, but perhaps she thought he needs somebody even if no one really seems to need him.  I think Alice relates to the elder Keach and that armoire thing. 🙂

RF:  Keach’s reaction when he realizes he’s missed something is also extremely interesting.  Mr. Malahide perfectly conveys a sort of subdued yet intense displeasure, or possibly even anger, reproach, or jealousy towards Alice in his expression and tone. Keach is keenly aware (and I’d say somewhat hurt) that he’s been left out, yet nothing in his manner up to this point has suggested he wants to be included.  Well, except for the money part, which is “important”.  Actually, I think this means that there could definitely be hope for Keach yet; he’s not entirely unfeeling and  has some self-awareness that all is not as it could or should be.  If he could tap the more positive side of himself more often, maybe it would be less of a mystery why Alice was attracted to him.

Admin:  The way he says, “I hadn’t realized,”  is a bit heartbreaking.  You’re right, it is like a combination of anger and hurt.  I certainly think there is hope for Keach.  While the film is about Birkin’s spiritual/emotional journey, I think there is enough to suggest that Keach is also experiencing a journey.  I hope he and Alice get their happy ending also.  I’ll just go ahead and say they did. 🙂

Violin Scene:

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