Zee and Co 1972

Read the script
Extract from a novel­ised version of Zee & Co (PDF).

Zee and Co (also called X,Y & Zee) was directed by Brian G Hutton, who directed Where Eagles Dare and scripted by the Irish novelist Edna O’Brien. It’s set in fash­ion­able upper crust London in the ’70s and, like John Schlesinger’s  Sunday Bloody Sunday, the film is very specific to its milieu. This is a small and decadent world of bored and monied people with too much time on their hands.

Michael Caine and Eliza­beth Taylor play a successful couple who keep the frisson alive in their rela­tion­ship by constant spar­ring. Then Caine discovers Susanna York, a demure boutique owner, and starts to have an affair with her. Taylor (Zee) does everything she can to break up the rela­tion­ship, including an attempted suicide but fails until she unearths a secret in York’s past.

The French make lots of films about the love lives of the amoral bour­geoisie but it’s rarer to find an English example. Here, because the film is set within the hermet­ic­ally sealed world of London social­ites, our sympathy for the char­ac­ters remains fairly distant and we are free to enjoy the compet­itive bi-play between them for what it is.

The two lovers appeal far less to us, for that reason, than Eliza­beth Taylor’s loud and vindictive ‘Zee’.  (Taylor is in great comic form here, possibly the best she’s been since playing ‘Martha’ in Virginia Woolf, and she gets some of the best lines).

Subtext as a weapon: ‘I wasn’t being vicious … was I?’

The closest compar­ison to Zee & Co is the amus­ingly heart­less world of Restor­a­tion comedy – so in the tradi­tion of Congreve, Sheridan and Farquhar, it’s a natural fit for an Irish writer like O’Brien.

In any Comedy of Manners, the dialogue is para­mount. O’Brien’s dialogue manages not to sound mannered and it contains enough angles and edges to bring the subtext out where it’s needed. (You just have to admire the way Taylor uses words like “carcass” to dig her knife in)

David Clough ©2011

Leave a Reply


Site Index