Here’s an oddity. An adaptation of Muriel Spark’s terrific and troubling novella The Driver’s Seat. It stars the late, great, Elizabeth Taylor as the enigmatic and troubled Lise, Iain Bannen as a man obsessed with macrobiotics and sex, Italian idol Guido Manneri and, in an unexpected cameo role as an unnamed English Lord, it’s only Andy Warhol! This is as cult as cinema gets.
Made in 1974, and with an alternative title in the US of Identikit, The Driver’s Seat is about a woman making plans to control her death as she has failed to do with her life. Many people miss the darkness in Muriel Spark’s work, but it is never more in evidence than in this tale. Although it is never specified there is little doubt that Lise’s journey is about mental illness and challenges our attitudes towards, and tolerance of, people who have psychological problems and beliefs which are different to what is perceived as ‘the norm’.
Liz Taylor was always a natural screen performer but she became a much more interesting actor as she grew older and her life became more complex. As with her more famous turns as Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Ellen in Night Watch her pain, both that of Lise and Liz, is palpable. There is a real lack of ego in these roles as Taylor is prepared to put aside her star reputation to play unattractive, and often downright ugly, characters. In The Driver’s Seat she is mesmerising, capturing the apparently cold and unfeeling woman that Spark essayed so brilliantly in her book.
Bannen’s performance is equally impressive, his obsessive-compulsive Bill is an unhinged mess of neuroses and is the hyperactive counterbalance to Lise. These are over the top performances, Taylor’s hair alone is terrifying, and they may be too much for some viewers but they are what the film demands. There are also some lovely cameos, particularly from Gino Giuseppe and Mona Washbourne, but they are all just bystanders as the camera follows Lise to the bitter end.
Here’s a short clip of Liz as Lise to give you a taste of the film, followed by the whole film! That’s right, you get your money’s worth here!:
Elizabeth Taylor – The Driver’s Seat (1974)
The Driver’s Seat is not a great film, but for any fan of Muriel Spark, Elizabeth Taylor or cult cinema it really is worth a watch. It has the feel of a Fellini movie that has been edited by David Lynch and it all makes for a really unusual and unsettling experience.