Joseph Andrews (1976)
With Peter Firth and Michael Hordern. (The latter won the heart of my then six-year-old brother William by spending most of the time fishing for roach and perch in the moat with him.) This film should be good clean stuff thought my father: Henry Fielding and all that. Yes, but with Tony Richardson directing we had topless nuns parading around the front lawn.
Not wanting to appear to be repeating himself, Mr. Richardson waited nearly 15 years before turning to "Joseph Andrews." The funny, stylish, infinitely cheerful film, which opens today at the Festival and other theaters, is well worth the wait. "Joseph Andrews" is not a sequel to "Tom Jones" in any literal sense, though it shares with that earlier movie its 18th-century period and its exuberant high spirits.
In addition "Joseph Andrews" contains more great (and more greatly funny) character performances than any film I've seen in years. It's one of the few movies around now that truly lifts the spirits, not only because it is so good-humored but also because the humor is laced with so much wit and wisdom.
Peter Firth, who was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in "Equus," is marvelously earnest and innocent in the title role. He is the calm eye that is the center of a hurricane of extraordinary characters who tumble around him in all sorts of adventures involving mistaken identities, coincidental meetings on country lanes, stolen babies, lust, true love, gypsies, highwaymen, evil squires, urban corruption and rural pleasures.
Foremost in this cast of characters is the single-mindedly lecherous Lady Booby, Joseph's employer, played by Ann-Margret at the top of her magnificent form, a lady who goes after the unsuspecting Joseph with something of the purpose of a warped missionary. She looks great and she is enchantingly funny, but so is almost everyone else in a cast so big I really don't know where to begin, since I'm sure to leave out someone important. It's one of those films in which even the smaller roles are as beautifully and as memorably done as the larger ones.
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The excerpt from the 1978 New York Times article is copyright The New York Times. The images are publicity stills from the movie from Lady Saye's private collection