The Brute opens in white-coater mode as a psychiatrist addresses the audience straight to camera, acknowledging his presence within a film and commenting on various theories as to why men abuse women.
Following this it then presents what appears to be a dramatised case-study as Teddy (Julian Glover) arrives at the house he shares with his wife Diane (Sarah Douglas) and proceeds to verbally, emotionally, and physically abuse her. Diane is thereby left with marks that she has to explain away in her job as a model. It is clear, however, that neither her photographer friend Mark (Bruce Robinson, later director of cult favourite Withnail and I) not his parter Carrie (Suzanne Stone) do not believe her story of having been involved in a car accident; besides anything else the vehicle has not been damaged.
After this, however, writer-director Gerry O’Hara gives us something unexpected as the second fourth-wall breaching encounter with the psychiatrist is recontextualised as one of his regular therapy sessions with Diane.
Teddy, unfortunately, refuses to accept that he is the one with the problem, continuing to vacillate between abuse and contrition. He appears apologetic, only to then reveal a branding iron which he attempts to use on her. Diane manages to get hold of the iron and strikes her husband before fleeing.
When Diane returns with the police Teddy denies her allegations. The police do not bother to inquire as to why Teddy has a blanket over his legs, merely accepting his explanation that Diane is neurotic, alcoholic, on medication etc.
Around this point the filmmakers throw us another surprise, as Diane is introduced by Carrie to Maria (Roberta Gibbs), another battered wife, with attention then shifting to Maria and her abusive partner.
While uniformly well-acted, competently directed and intelligently written by O’Hara, The Brute is one of those films whose appeal, as something that the 1970s punter would have paid to go and see at the cinema, for entertainment, as opposed to feminist consciousness raising, is hard to discern. In this it reminded me a bit of the later Hollow Reed, a film in which a gay man struggles for custody of his child against his ex-wife’s new partner, whom he suspects of being abusive.
In relation to this possible failing, however, one of The Brute’s strengths is its refusal to give easy answers, as when Mark initiates a relationship with Diane, which Carrie is fully aware of, or when a friend of Maria’s partner is visibly shocked by his violence towards her but does not know how to respond. Somewhat against this, however, there’s Carrie’s martial arts displays, have been fine if introduced earlier but here coming across as somewhat deus ex machina.