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Year: 1976
Language: English
Format: 35mm Colour
Runtime: 97 min
Director: Don Owen
Writer: Norman Snider, Don Owen
Cinematographer: Marc Champion
Editor: George Appleby, Marc Champion
Sound: James McCarthy, Omero Pataracchia
Music: Murray McLauchlan
Production Company: Clearwater Films

After a hiatus that lasted almost a decade, Don Owen returned to feature filmmaking with Partners. A romance-cum-thriller, the film is also a history lesson and an analysis of the relationship between Canada and the United States. The title refers to a love affair, as well as business relationships (both legitimate and criminal) and the fact that the two countries share the continent.

Partners focuses on pampered, ultra-WASP heiress Heather Grey (Hollis McLaren) and her affair with drug dealer, thief and corporate spy Paul Howard (Michael J. Margotta). Heather first encounters Paul during a break-in. His employers are launching a hostile takeover of Canadian Pulp and Paper, the company run by Heather’s father John (Denholm Elliott), and Paul is looting John’s home office for insider information.

Heather’s attraction to Paul is based on his outsider status, while he’s impressed by her family’s prestige. The Greys are directly linked to the old Anglo order (a familiar theme in Owen's work, evident in Nobody Waved Good-bye as well as shorts like A Further Glimpse of Joey); the family fortune was built by Sir Adam Grey, one of many United Empire Loyalists who left the United States following the Revolution and transformed Canada from a French colonial outpost into a British one. As in much of Owen’s oeuvre, sex, art and crime are linked and presented as escape routes from the repressions of tradition, as evinced by Heather’s growing awareness that she’s controlled by her lineage and wealth.

Partners is highly critical of growing American influence in the country while acknowledging the doomed nature of the Anglo sensibility and the interlinked histories of Canada and the United States. When the film premiered at the then Festival of Festivals in 1976, its explicit sex scenes landed it in hot water with the censors, who were reportedly upset by the fact that Heather was on top during most of the couple’s encounters. Clearly the old order still held some sway.

As he did with his earlier features, Owen snubbed the powers that be - or at least used their money for his own ends. Partners was produced as part of the tax shelter programme, a federal initiative intended to promote private investment that largely resulted in countless forgettable rip-offs of American genre films. Going against the grain, Owen instead produced a uniquely Canadian film.

By: Steve Gravestock

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