TELL ME THAT YOU LOVE ME
Sight and Sound
Laura Simms is in her early thirties and the editor of a glossy women's magazine, Woman Now. Her ex-boyfriend Michael, whom she still sees, is charming, unreliable and unfaithful. Over Laura's birthday dinner, he tells her that he is getting married to his boss, Davina. When Laura, who is upset, goes to the ladies', he writes their waitress' telephone number on the bill, which Laura sees on her return. A scene ensues and Laura rushes out of the restaurant, losing her way in a dark alley. She is followed by a stranger, a young man who saw what happened and paid the bill. He courteously offers to call a taxi for Laura.
After Michael's promiscuity, and under pressure from her mother, Laura is looking for a conventional relationship. When the handsome, well-mannered stranger, Gabriel Lewis, gets in touch, she enjoys the attention he pays her, even if he is too attentive at times. He is a little mysterious about his background, though he tells her he is a lawyer. He takes a high moral tone about other people's behaviour, especially Michael's, but also Laura's. There are other incidents which give Laura cause for concern, but she puts her anxieties to the back of her mind. On one occasion, Gabriel punches a man in a restaurant who drunkenly makes a pass at her. But then he has twelve dozen red roses delivered to her office.
Gabriel becomes insanely jealous of Michael and goes to his flat, threatening him and warning him to stay away from Laura. Michael, whose wedding to Davina has been called off, begs Laura to let him make enquiries about Gabriel. Meanwhile, Gabriel's increasingly obsessive behaviour has begun to worry Laura, and she decides to see him less frequently. He leaves a string of messages on her answerphone which she does not answer. One evening, Michael returns to his flat to find it smashed up. Suspecting Gabriel, and afraid for Laura's safety, he tries to contact her, without success. Arriving home from an office party, Laura finds Gabriel already there. He threatens her with a knife, but in the course of a struggle. he turns it against himself.
Tell Me That You Love Me is the second in BBC1's autumn series of Screen One films. Without any of the patronising tone which often accompanies pastiche, it reworks the classic women's magazine romance so that it comes over as fake and fanciful as Mills and Boon. The deliberately light drama has menacing undertones which slowly and with perfect timing come to the surface. The opening sequences contain every romantic cliche in the book; ' candlelit dinners, beautiful clothes, a tousled, irresponsible and irresistible ex-boyfriend, and a strong, silent lover. Tell Me plays with the conventions of romance. First, there's the element of intrigue. Laura doesn't mind that Gabriel chooses not to reveal everything about himself on their first date. Mystery makes him sexy. She can't quite believe her luck in finding a man who treats women with the chivalry that romantic magazines used to tell their readers to expect. Second, there are the lovers'' tiffs, which make making up even better. Third, there is 'impression management'. When success for women is still measured in terms of their success in personal life, what could be more appropriate for the editor of a glossy women's magazine than to be seen with a handsome professional man like Gabriel? An aura of sexual snobbery pervades the Woman Now office. The upwardly mobile career girls have relationships with men like themselves which they hope will lead to marriage and children. They look down on the office 'tart' and her sleazy affair with the middle-aged editor-in-chief, and they envy Laura her relationship with the gallant and debonair Gabriel.
The drama that unfolds occurs because Laura follows the rules of romance. She lets work, for once, take second place in her life: she 'falls' in love, throwing caution to the wind and allowing herself to be swept away on a wave of passion. The morality and the menace of Tell Me that You Love Me are very contemporary. The post-feminist woman reveals herself to be as vulnerable and needy as the office tart, and her choices are just as limited. The heroine's desire to give up control of her life to a 'masterful' hero is at the heart of the romantic narrative. But real life is now too dangerous for this to be anything more than a fantasy, a nostalgia for the sort of love stories once, but no longer, found in teen magazines.
But Tell Me That You Love Me also follows its own internal rules. In order to retain the playfulness of pastiche, it must remain ambivalent in its conclusion and avoid becoming a social critique. In this case, a romance becomes a thriller, the heroine who discovers her dream lover to be a violent and dangerous man cannot be shown to have learnt her lesson. How she feels, and what will happen to her next, remain uncertain.
TELL ME THAT YOU LOVE ME
Tense Romance and a Sticky End
by Lynne Truss
The Times September 9, 1991
If the word "romance" carries associations of twaddle in pink ribbon, last night's excellent Tell Me That You Love Me (BBC 1) set the matter in quite a different light. Romance can be powerful, exhausting, frightening; saying "I love you" when you are accustomed to saying "I don't want to get hurt" is a step, blindfold, into the abyss. Adrian Hodges's clever script (well directed by Bruce MacDonald, and beautifully acted) tapped straight into the mains of modern solipsistic romantic desires. Tell me that you love me; it makes me feel so good about myself.
Hodges took the theme "No one has ever loved anyone the way everyone wants to be loved", and posited a simple "All right then, what if. . ?" What if a man - a stranger - materialised from nowhere, heroic but respectful, always surprising in his gestures (turning up at your office in the late evening with fish supper for two) yet somehow knowing precisely what will please you? What if he starts saying, in absolute seriousness, "We are two halves of the same soul"? Would you say, "Hey, lover, don't stop"? Or would you feel smothered, manipulated, suspicious?
If it sounds soppy, it was not. Tell Me That You Love Me was produced by Sarah Curtis (who made the horrifyingly authentic News Hounds), and it took place slap - bang in the real world. Any romantic cliche resided mostly in the audience's mind, making us see events in a misleading light. Laura (Judith Scott) is an editor on a women's magazine who has been shocked and hurt by the chronic philandering of ex-boyfriend Michael (James Wilby). So when the new man, Gabriel (Sean Bean), turns up professing eternal love - and when Laura is coaxed towards professing love in return - one's automatic fear is simply that she will be hurt again, because Gabriel is surely either a liar or a fruitcake.
The piece was billed as a thriller, yet Sean Bean's level, ambiguous performance kept the whole thing waltzing on a razor's edge between threat and promise. Was this man simply a menace, or a tragic, lovesick Troilus deserving pity? Was he a dream or a nightmare? Only at the end, when (in an agony of rejection) he turned up at Laura's pitch-dark flat armed with a large gleaming knife, did the two possibilities seem to merge: oh good heavens, he's going to do her in. But of course this proved to be the biggest mistake of all. When Laura refused to say she loved him - apparently at peril of her life - the scene climaxed with him turning the knife on himself. Gabriel was neither a dream nor a nightmare, after all; he was a person in his own right, whose real life-blood was pouring on to the carpet.
"I sometimes feel I invented him; I wanted him so much," was what Laura confessed blushingly. But what became obvious was that she was quite mistaken: she did not want him at all. She wanted someone who would merely say the swoony things and behave as though they were true, who would love her unreservedly, but with the sense not to phone during a meeting, who would take on the burden of her romantic needs without lumbering her with his own. This was love in our time, all right. And if there was a tragic story, it belonged to Gabriel, not Laura. Hodges must be a damned wise fellow when it comes to affairs of the heart.
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