Set in the town of Wetherby in West Yorkshire, the film focuses on Jean Travers, a middle-aged spinster schoolteacher. One evening, she invites married friends for a dinner party, only to have some terrible repressions and past traumas dredged up when guest John Morgan expresses his emotional pain. The strange young man arrives at Jean’s cottage the next morning with a gift of pheasants. While sitting at the kitchen table waiting for tea, he puts the barrel of a gun in his mouth and kills himself.
From this point onward, the film’s story is told in chronologically discrete, interlocking flashbacks to the recent and distant past, showing actions and events as seen and experienced from various points of view. The central mystery of Morgan’s suicide is the fulcrum around which the narrative turns. The narrative construction of the film resembles a jigsaw puzzle and, in keeping with Hare’s style of exposition, frequently appears to have key pieces missing.
There are further scenes of the dinner party as well as scenes of the police investigation into the suicide. We learn Morgan had not been an invited guest—he walked in with others who assumed he was an acquaintance of Jean’s, and Jean assumed that her friends had brought him with them.
An aloof and peculiar young woman named Karen Creasy—a former acquaintance of Morgan’s—is delivered from the funeral to Jean’s doorstep by Mike Langdon, one of the policemen conducting the inquest. For several weeks after, the girl insinuates herself into Jean’s life and home and shows no intention of leaving. Sullen and self-centred, Karen is curiously unmoved by Morgan’s death and is even hostile to his memory.
It is later shown in flashbacks that Morgan had developed an obsession with Karen when they were both students at the University of Essex, and she had violently rebuffed his desperate attempt to initiate a relationship with her. It is implied this rejection may have been a factor in his decision to leave Essex for Yorkshire with the intention of committing suicide.
Wetherby is a 1985 British mystery drama film written and directed by playwright David Hare and starring Vanessa Redgrave, Ian Holm, Judi Dench, Marjorie Yates, Tom Wilkinson, Penny Downie, Joely Richardson and Patrick Blackwell.
Directed by: David Hare
Starring: Vanessa Redgrave, Ian Holm, Judi Dench, Marjorie Yates, Tom Wilkinson, Penny Downie, Joely Richardson, Patrick Blackwell
Screenplay by: David Hare
Production Design by: Hayden Griffin
Cinematography by: Stuart Harris
Film Editing by: Chris Wimble
Costume Design by: Jane Greenwood, Lindy Hemming
Art Direction by: Jamie Leonard
Music by: Nick Bicât
Distributed by: Metro Goldwyn Mayer, United Artists Classics
Release Date: July 19, 1985