Quest for Love is a decidedly offbeat movie. It’s a science fiction movie but it’s also a love story, and a very good one. It also gives Joan Collins one of her best roles ever.
It was based on a short story by one of Britain’s greatest science fiction writers, John Wyndham, best known for The Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos (which was the basis for one of the classic British science fiction movies, The Village of the Damned).
Colin Trafford (Tom Bell) is a nuclear physicist working on a project that will push our understanding of time further than ever before. When it goes wrong he finds himself in an alternative universe.
At first he thinks he just blacked out for a while, but when he goes to his club he finds that everything is slightly disorienting. Then he notices the headline in that day’s newspaper, announcing that John Kennedy has just been made chairman of the League of Nations. John Kennedy has been dead for eight years and the League of Nations ceased to exist decades earlier. The paper also features an interview with veteran actor Leslie Howard (who was of course killed when the plane he was flying in was shot down in 1943).
This is all very strange. It gets even stranger when he meets his wife Ottilie (Joan Collins). You see Colin Trafford isn’t married. And he’s supposed to take her to the premiere of his new play which is opening in the West End. Colin has never written anything in his life. He’s a nuclear physicist.
And when he asks a cab driver to take him to his flat in Pimlico the cab driver is confused. There aren’t any flats in Pimlico. Colin tells him the block of flats was built on a site that was bombed out during the war, which just confuses the cabbie even more. The last war the cab driver remembers was the Great War.
Colin now begins to realise he’s in a parallel world where the Second World War never happened. And as a result everyone’s life is slightly different. His best friend Tom (Denholm Elliott) lost an arm in Vietnam working as a war correspondent, but when he meets Tom he still has both arms.
Being a physicist Tom understands what has happened. The experiment has sent him into a parallel universe. Somehow he taken the place of the Colin Trafford in this alternative universe. Understanding what has happened doesn’t make it any easier to cope with. For one thing, he has a wife to deal with. He’s not merely married, he’s very unhappily married. The Colin Trafford in this universe was a very unpleasant character indeed. He had treated his wife abominably and had had a series of affairs. He attends a party and finds that the Colin Trafford in this world had slept with virtually every woman at the party.
That’s bad enough, but Colin’s big problem is that the moment he first sets eyes on his wife of four years he falls madly in love with her. Ottilie of course hates him because he’s treated her so badly but now somehow he has to explain to her that he’s a different Colin Trafford from the one who has made her so unhappy, and he has to convince her that he is genuinely in love with her.
That’s difficult enough but there are several plot twists to go and Colin will find himself in a race against time (appropriately enough since this is a movie all about time) if he wants to spend the rest of his life with this woman he is hopelessly in love with.
This movie has been criticised for putting too much emphasis on the love story at the expense of the science fiction story. While it’s true that it’s an unconventional science fiction movie and that the primary focus is on the love story it’s an unfair criticism. The movie combines the romantic and science fictional elements extremely well, and the focus on the romance gives it an emotional resonance often lacking in science fiction.
Tom Bell is very effective as Colin, Denholm Elliott is as solid as ever but it’s Joan Collins who dominates the movie. This is one of her most sympathetic roles but it’s also one of her most demanding. She’s playing a woman faced with an extraordinary situation and she rises to the occasion superbly. A potential weakness of the script is that Ottilie has to believe the completely unbelievable story that Colin tells her but this is solved rather neatly. When they make love she notices that a scar that Colin has had since childhood is no longer there. A scar that a man has carried for thirty years cannot suddenly disappear so at that point she can no longer doubt his story. He is Colin Trafford, but he’s not the Colin Trafford she married.
Apart from which he is kind and sensitive and romantic, things her husband could never be accused of being. A woman knows her husband’s true nature and this is obviously a different man. And he’s a man she could very easily love very much indeed.
But while it appears that everything is now perfect for Colin and Ottilie, there’s an unexpected complication, but you’ll have to watch the movie to find out what it is.
Quest for Love works equally well as a science fiction movie and as an offbeat love story and while it’s not the sort of movie most science fiction fans will be expecting if you’re prepared to accept it as a science fictional love story it works very well indeed. If you’re a Joan Collins fan, it’s a must-see. Even if you’re not it’s still highly recommended.
The Region 1 DVD from Scorpion Releasing is an acceptable if not outstanding transfer.