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Intimate Relations review

Blacker in its humour than freshly laid tar, this is a very English tale of horizontal Olympics in cosy suburbia. Supposedly based on a true story, it tastes of Personal Services, with outwardly respectable characters who sip tea and politely nibble lemon cake but turn into frenzied sex beasts once the curtains are drawn. Walter's Marjorie is a saucy example: give her 15 minutes with young Harold and she'll be all over him - - and if her underage daughter should wander in, well, maybe the girl can watch...

It's gruesomely amusing, though unlikely to be a big multiplex crowd pleaser - the cheating wife is knocking on a bit, and, good-looking though Graves is, the Lord never intended him to wear Y-fronts. No, memories of Julie Walters' lumpy Acorn Antiques stockings hang in the mind like a pair of dripping brown tights in the bathroom, and, although the mix of death, adultery and Les Dennis is uncomfortably engrossing, it's not a turn on.

Relations would be missable if it weren't for the performances - - especially Walters'. She's better here than she's been in anything since Educating Rita, because she doesn't shy away from showing us just how repugnant Marjorie is (a woman who insists her toy boy calls her "mum"). First-time writer and director Philip Goodhew gives her enough funny lines not to demonise her, but only just - this is a deeply unpleasant creature.

As Marjorie's lodger and lover Harold Guppy (a seaman with a temper that's so violent he has to subdue it with sugar), Rupert Graves goes from fickle yes-man to arch manipulator, and even 14-year-old Joyce is as much a Borgia as the misbehaving adults. It's hard to feel sorry for cuckold Mr Beasley (Walker), a pathetic wreck of a man who chooses to ignore his wife's blatant bed-bouncing, instead Mr Sheening his prosthetic leg and getting arse-holed in the boxroom.

Goodhew delivers a film that leaves a nasty, if faintly addictive, taste in the mouth. The laughs are cruel and the story increasingly predictable (it progresses, inevitably, from debauchery to psychological terrorism to murder). But this is an impressive debut.

Funny in the sickest way, this ballsy British movie brews up a sour-tasting yet refreshing cup of cha, laced with murder, adultery and blackmail.

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