'Yanks': Old-Fashioned Romance Without Judgment

The film "Yanks" so alluringly captures the quaint spirit of a small English community and the breathtaking beauty of its outlying countryside that after the end credits vanish you'll want to hop on the next plane to the British Isles.

Director John Schlesinger found the perfect backdrop for his moving 1979 drama about American GIs in Britain during World War II. The lush, mist-covered hills that seem to stretch out forever and the historic, Old World feel of the town create an atmosphere ripe for romantic adventure.

"Yanks" is a bit of an old-fashioned movie. Schlesinger captures with glowing warmth the rapture felt during the initial phases of romance. "Yanks" is perhaps never more heartfelt than when we see Matt (Richard Gere), an American mess-hall sergeant, frolicking with his comely English girlfriend, Jean (Lisa Eichhorn), in picturesque outdoor settings.

But Schlesinger doesn't idealize the two relationships that form the core of his period film. The emotionally torn Jean must eventually choose between Matt and her English boyfriend, who is away fighting the Germans. Her heart yearns for the sensitive, if somewhat immature Matt. But her sense of propriety pushes her toward her hometown beau. Matt must also wrestle with his own fear of emotional commitment.

The secondary relationship in "Yanks" is similarly imperfect. An unhappily married American officer (William Devane) finds himself having an affair with a distinguished and cultured Englishwoman (Vanessa Redgrave) whose husband has also been called away by the war. Schlesinger doesn't moralize at all about this liaison, which the two characters approach with an almost surprising lack of fear or guilt. Instead, the director simply allows the viewer to feel the romantically poignant vibrations generated by the couple.

Some may find parts of "Yanks" slow going. The lengthy film would have benefited from additional editing. Nevertheless, it is an emotionally and visually compelling work that will not be easily forgotten.

"Yanks" (1979), directed by John Schlesinger. 139 minutes. Rated R.

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