It’s atmospheric and visually arresting, with some sharp, spare, dialogue. This film has been  lodged in my brain since I first watched it in May 2021, so I’m watching it again in July 2024.

Billie Whitelaw as Elizabeth Leaming in An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

Pictured: Pippa Guard as Cordelia Gray and Billie Whitelaw as Elizabeth Leaming in An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman is often described as a British crime film directed by Chris Petit and starring Pippa Guard and Billie Whitelaw. Released in 1982 it is loosely based on the 1972 novel of the same name by P. D. James.

Pippa Guard plays a 23 year old female private detective that sets out to find out why her client’s son killed himself.

Pippa Guard as Cordelia Gray and Billie Whitelaw as Elizabeth Leaming in An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

Pictured: Pippa Guard as Cordelia Gray and Billie Whitelaw as Elizabeth Leaming in An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

Visuals: It’s beautifully composed and lit, with grainy 80s muted colours.
Soundtrack: Judicious use of silence and ambient / discordant tones.
Themes: Grief, suicide, love, sexuality, obsession, time, family, storytelling.
Mood: Serious, mysterious.
Cast: Billie Whitelaw is an extraordinary presence. Ghost-like.
Reminds me of: Orphée (1950), Stalker (1979), Annihilation (2018).

Pippa Guard as Cordelia Gray in An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

Pictured: Pippa Guard as Cordelia Gray in An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

On first viewing, I was thinking that the female private eye character is recognisable in 2021, and that the analogue world she inhabits has been made compelling by the passing of time.

After watching again, there’s a lot more going on. The exposition near the end is a bit clunky, but it’s more than a crime movie.

It’s an entertaining psychological drama, with mythic elements, that deliberately veers into the dream world. The passing of forty years has revealed it as an art film; murky, understated, abstract.

Further reading confirms director Chris Petit was aiming for more than a straightforward murder mystery movie. He’s said: “I thought of it as a kind of gothic story of a haunting – rather than just a straightforward policier.”

Critics were not kind to An Unsuitable Job For A Woman on it’s release, but I think it’s worth watching and re-appraising.

Paul Freeman as James Calendar in An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

Pictured: Paul Freeman as James Calendar in An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

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