Alan Bates fights for custody of his ex-boyfriend Gary Oldman’s dog. The battle becomes a microcosm of their failed relationship. Alan sees himself as a hero and Gary’s family as villains. But We Think the World of You allows things to get much thornier than that. The film is oddly structured and poorly paced. But the characters are complex and the story unpredictable. We’re spared the site of any animal abuse. We’re not spared the pitiless way these people treat each other.
Learn more in my spoiler filled recap.
Act One: Alan Meets Evie
Scene One: A London Prison, the 1950’s
ALAN BATES (middle class): You could have asked me for the money. Why a robbery?
GARY OLDMAN (his working-class ex): Megan’s pregnant. Please look after my dog Evie. I think the world of her.
ALAN: I can’t. I work full time.
Scene Two: The Parent’s Home
GARY’s MOM: Could you give us some money?
ALAN: Always. How’s the dog?
EVIE (a German Shepherd): Arf! [They’ve kept me locked in a pen. Take me for a walk!]
(They go walking in the woods. Evie runs. Alan lets go of the leash.)
ALAN: Oh no. Evie got away. Guess I don’t have to take care of her.
EVIE: Arf! [Don’t worry, I’m back!]
Act Two: Custody Battle
Scene Three: A Month Later
GARY’s DAD: The damn dog won’t behave. Even when I hit her with my cane.
EVIE: Whimper. [Help.]
ALAN: She’s coming with me.
(Alan and Evie friendship montage. Evie loves playing outside but makes big messes indoors.)
ALAN: Evie, you remind me of Gary. Wild and misunderstood. If I can win your love, I can surely win back his.
EVIE: Arf. [He’s got a wife and kids. You need to let go.]
Scene Four: Gary and Megan’s Home
MEGAN (Gary’s icy wife): They’re taking the dog back.
ALAN: They were abusing her!
MEGAN: They don’t want Gary to know that. And why do you care?
ALAN: I don’t. I just… Do you think Gary would sell her to me?
MEGAN: Never. He thinks the world of that dog.
(Alan leaves money for Megan on the mantle. He has a nightmare about Evie locked in a prison cell.)
Scene Five: A Bar
GARY: It’s good to be out of prison. I was thinking…
ALAN: How’s Evie? Are you walking her? Are you feeding her? Are you singing her to sleep? I could take her weekends. I could take her at nights. I could come over and walk her right now! I could…
GARY: Alan, enough. Megan’s tired of you coming by.
ALAN: I could save you. You, me and Evie could run away from all this.
GARY: If Evie hadn’t been spoiled by you, she’d have never minded growing up in poverty. She’d have never robbed anyone or gone to prison. So buy her Alan. You’re good at buying affection.
(Alan gives Gary the money and lets him go.)
Act Three: A Very Good Dog
Scene Six: Alan’s Home
(Evie runs amuck anyplace she goes. Terrified of noise and strangers. Alan throws a party and locks Evie in the bedroom.)
PARTY GUEST: That dog is miserable. You can’t lock her up like a prisoner.
(Party Guest lets Evie out of the room. Evie attacks the guests and trashes the apartment.)
EVIE: Arf! [You’re mine Alan. No one else gets to come near you. I think the world of you.]
Scene Seven: A Park
(Alan sits with Evie. He sees Gary and Megan walk by with their three children.)
GARY: I reckon you had the best of the bargain.
EVIE: Arf. [Dark.]
That Doggy in the Window
Unable to love each other, the English turn naturally to dogs.J.R. Ackerley
Hugh Stoddart’s screenplay keeps the events and dialogue from J.R. Ackerley’s 1960 novel. What we lose is Frank’s angry inner monologue. The novel emphasizes Frank’s classism, misogyny and unhealthy obsession with his ex. His relationship with Evie grew darker as it progressed. The film allows Alan Bates to craft a more sympathetic character while maintaining his agency. Janet Maslin, of the New York Times, felt that de-fanging the character was a mistake. Roger Ebert could still see the messy subtext beneath the polite surface.
Alan Bates and Gary Oldman had played these types before. They light sparks in their brief screen time together. It’s clear that the relationship is transactional. But if they’d both been honest early on, they could have come to a better “bargain.”
J.R. Ackerley was an openly gay man at a time when same-sex relations were illegal. It may have helped that he was related to a Duchess. After a long search for a romantic partner he settled into single life with his beloved German Shepherd Queenie. 1960’s We Think the World of You was his second novel inspired by her. The first, My Dog Tulip, was published in 1956 and made into a film in 2009.
What are your favorite dog themed films? Isn’t it nice to find one where the dog doesn’t die? Read my reviews of LGBT media here. Listen to my podcast, Rainbow Colored Glasses, here.