Practically forgotten today, "Negatives" is a bizarre, uncomfortable tale of sexual tension and madness. Its characterizations are so offbeat that finding universality in the story is near futile. Furniture-store owner Theo (Peter McEnery) and Vivien (the young Glenda Jackson) are a miserable, living-together couple who only connect when role-playing. Their chosen parts? Why, executed wife-murderer Hawley Harvey Crippen (1862-1910) and his mistress Ethel, of course. The pair's volatile relationship turns even rockier when Theo meets Reingard (Diane Cilento), a blond German photographer who moves into the spare room and plots to seduce either or both of her hosts. Eventually, she also convinces Theo that he has an eerie resemblance to legendary pilot Manfred Von Richthofen ("The Red Baron"), which sends him spiraling into an apparent psychotic break. What lesson should we take from such a specific, unlikely tale?
"Negatives" was director Peter Medak's first feature, and the story has intriguing parallels with his later work. Theo's warped identification with Crippen and Richthoven anticipates Jack's delusions about Jesus Christ and Jack the Ripper in "The Ruling Class" (1972), and the arch bickering of Theo and Vivien recalls the theatrical banter of Bri and Sheila in "A Day in the Death of Joe Egg" (also 1972). Like "Joe Egg," "Negatives" also has a play-like structure and a very small cast.
This is not a great film but, at the very least, Jackson's many admirers will enjoy her sharp, rancorous performance.