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In Britain, reviewers have compared Angela Huth’s novels favorably with those of Jane Austen, and perhaps her The Land Girls is a fine book. Condensed to a 112-minute film, however, the story has an unfortunate resemblance to an inverted farmer’s daughter joke: Three young women arrive at a Dorset farm, and each in turn sleeps with the farmer’s only son.

The seducers are Stella (Dangerous Beauty’s Catherine McCormack), Ag (Swept From the Sea’s Rachel Weisz), and Prue (Anna Friel, who’s worked mostly in British TV); they’re new recruits to the Woman’s Land Army, which detailed women to do agricultural work so Britain’s male farmers could go off to fight the Nazis. Stella is middle-class, proper, and engaged to Philip (Gerald Down), a Royal Navy officer stationed at nearby Southampton; Ag is an aspiring barrister and 26-year-old virgin who addresses everyone with the exaggerated informality of the English upper class; Prue is cocky, working-class, and brazen. She’s the one who advises the other Land Girls, “tits out,” when they attend a dance and the first of them to lure Joe to bed (well, to a hayloft, actually). Meanwhile, Joe (Steven Mackintosh) hankers to go to war as a pilot—an assignment for which he’s not fated.

Director David Leland, who co-wrote the film with Keith Dewhurst, has done more distinctive work both as a writer-director (Wish You Were Here, Crossing the Line) and as a screenwriter (Mona Lisa, Personal Services) with a speciality in rebellious women and doomed male romantics. Both are on hand here, but The Land Girls is conventional made-for-British-TV-and-American-moviehouses fare, with the expected appeal to PBS-donor Anglophilia. Yes, it features some unblushing sexual exploration, not to mention a crashing-and-burning Messerschmitt, but it also boasts a full complement of picturesque country lanes, quaint railroad branch lines, and all the rest of that green-and-pleasant-land stuff. Wish you were here, indeed.

The Land Girls is not all discreetly depicted sex and voluptuously portrayed countryside, shot with natural light by Henry Braham. There’s the young women’s quest (successful, of course) to win the respect (grudging, of course) of Joe’s father (Tom Georgeson), as well as the standard ration of period detail and wartime tragedy. The problem with the latter, though, is that it happens to people the audience barely knows, even if the misfortunes do provide the three lead actresses a chance to demonstrate their mastery of emotional breakdown or noble abnegation. (The scene where Stella declines to sleep with Philip is a showcase of English repression and resignation, and even features a droll pun.)

The film certainly isn’t too fast-moving, but it may be too compressed. The casualties would be more affecting if the characters had been more thoroughly established, and the three women’s flings with Joe wouldn’t be so farcical if they didn’t follow so quickly upon each other. The film’s pacing is as unhurried as that of most agrarian pictures, yet when true love arrives, it’s pursued breathlessly by disaster and then the epilogue that demonstrates that true Brits can survive—indeed, are best when surviving—a lifetime of unrequited desire.

At the risk of making The Land Girls seem as if it lasted a lifetime, perhaps it should have been a miniseries. It still would have been fusty, but at least the heroines’ assignations wouldn’t have appeared quite so silly if separated by more shots of threshing, plowing, and parish congregations singing “All Things Bright and Beautiful.” Of course, for those bored to tears by the English countryside and earnest young people finding themselves, silly sex may be the only thing that redeems the movie.CP