The Pumpkin Eater is a Jack Clayton film from 1964 (Clayton is best known for his Turn of the Screw adaptation, The Innocents.) It’s essentially a marriage breakdown movie, but it’s shot kind of like a horror film, which is an interesting touch.
Jake (Peter Finch) and his wife Jo (Anne Bancroft) are an upper-middle-class couple whose relationship is falling apart. He is having affairs on the side, while she is having a sort of mental breakdown as she has ever more children. It’s told in a series of flashbacks/flashforwards, which creates a disorienting effect that takes you into Jo’s mind. It’s an odd psychodrama that feels a lot like the films Pinter made with director Joseph Losey, like The Servant and Accident.
The film is based on a semi-autobiographical book by Penelope Mortimer, and the screenplay was written by Harold Pinter. In real life, Mortimer finally was sterilised after her seventh child, similarly to the central character in The Pumpkin Eater.
The performances are excellent, including a good James Mason turn as a friend who tells Jo about her husband’s affairs. It’s always weird for me to see Peter Finch in a British role, even though that’s where he made the most films, as I always think of him as Howard Beale in Network. Both he and Bancroft are excellent here—Bancroft’s performance won at Cannes and earned her a Bafta, but she was pipped to the Oscar by Julie Andrews.
Extras include an interview with the author’s son Jeremy Mortimer, who fills in some of the background about the author; a short interview with camera operator Brian West; and interviews with child actors Frances White and Fergus McClelland. Neil Sinyard contributes a selected scenes commentary. A trailer image gallery, and a large booklet with new and old writing on the film complete the package.