"We Think the World of You" is a comment in this movie that is repeated several times, a British expression of affection. But it rings hollow, and becomes more and more hollow each time it is spoken, so that a second, truer meaning comes through.
The recipient of the phrase is Frank (Alan Bates), a middle-aged civil service worker in the sixties, a closet homosexual at a time when homosexuality was a crime in England.
He is frustrated and unhappy, largely because of the love he still feels for Johnny (Gary Oldman), who, sometime before the film begins, threw Frank over for a woman and a more acceptable lifestyle.
But Johnny keeps coming back into Frank's life, and as the film begins he has called upon Frank to visit him in jail. It seems Johnny is about to be sentenced for burglary.
During their conversation Johnny talks about his mother and his wife, but more important to him is his dog a dog that he didn't even have when he and Frank were together. Tearfully, he asks Frank to care for the dog, but Frank declines.
Later, however, after Johnny is sent to prison for a year, Frank becomes obsessive about the dog, which is in the care of Johnny's mother and stepfather. The stepfather beats the dog and the animal gets no exercise, being imprisoned in a small alcove, and after a time this drives Frank to distraction.
Frank eventually projects his love for Johnny who is also imprisoned, of course onto the dog, and finds his unfortunate life just further frustrated.
Of course, what the audience can see and Frank cannot is that he's better off without Johnny, who tends to use people up and cannot hold a steady job.
But Frank continues to visit Johnny's overbearing mother and her boring, abusive husband, as well as Johnny's rigid wife. All of these people are condescending to Frank, taking his money and help but treating him quite badly, and, naturally, never thinking of acknowledging his homosexuality much less Johnny's.
One might feel this could make for a most gloomy movie, but it is surprisingly bright most of the time, with some most amusing satire. The wit infused in this picture and its subtle moves makes it much more appealing generally than some more exploitive British social satires in recent years.
And while Alan Bates' low-key performance is superb and dominates the film, it is the performance of the dog that is particularly noticeable. How in the world did they get him to do some of the things he does?
"We Think the World of You" is obviously not for everyone, but it is a nice little film that should please fans of British satire.