Based on the 1954 short story "Random Quest" by John Wyndham, this is one of the few screen adaptations which I thought was better than the original work. The short story and the film follow the same basic storyline: due to a failed experiment, a physicist named Colin Trafford is sent to a parallel universe where World War II never happened and his counterpart is a successful author and complete bastard with a beautiful wife named Ottilie Harsham, with whom he falls in love almost immediately. "Random Quest" is a good story and has some fascinating ideas but, at 43 pages, it was too short to fully explore the potential of the material. Wyndham could have easily gotten a full novel out of the idea. Ottilie only makes a brief appearance in the story, meaning that it is hard to get involved with Colin's search for her once he returns to his own universe. The film, however, rectifies these problems.
The lead roles are played by Tom Bell and Joan Collins. As the initially mystified Colin, Bell gives an excellent, understated performance. He is occasionally prone to angry outbursts but he is a good and decent man whom you care about more and more as the film progresses. Joan Collins is simply marvellous as Ottilie, playing the role of a neglected, emotionally abused woman to perfection. When she realises that Colin is not her husband, Ottilie experiences true happiness for the first time since her marriage and Collins is wonderful in these scenes as well. I have never seen her give a better performance. The film has two extremely strong supporting cast members in Denholm Elliott and Laurence Naismith and it also features nice but fairly small appearances from Ray McAnally, Juliet Harmer, Simon Ward, Sam Kydd and Bernard Horsfall.
The screenplay is written by Terence Feely, who is probably best known for his work on numerous cult TV series of the 1960s and 1970s. As he wrote two of my favourite episodes of "The Prisoner" ("The Schizoid Man" and "The Girl Who Was Death"), my hopes were high and the film did not disappoint. He was able to flesh out Wyndham's characters considerably. Colin and Ottilie feel like real people throughout. Colin's characterisation is particularly good as the differences and similarities between him and his unseen counterpart are well illustrated. Giving Ottilie a fatal heart condition was a brilliant idea on Feely's part as it gave Colin's search for her counterpart in his own universe a greater sense of urgency and a greater moral dimension than existed in the short story. It also served to make her even more unattainable and eliminated the problem of her once again being the victim of her husband's emotional abuse once the two Colins switched back, something which undermined the short story's happy ending. All of these changes are to the benefit of the film.
On the sci-fi side, Feely not only incorporated some of Wyndham's ideas about the differences between the two universes such as nuclear fission being still only theoretical and the League of Nations still existing but included some of his own such as JFK being alive and the new Secretary-General of the League of Nations, heart transplants being unknown to medical science, abortion still being illegal in the UK, televisions being more primitive, Mount Everest still being unconquered and - my personal favourite - Leslie Howard still being alive and still acting into his old age. These are fascinating little touches, many of which are Feely's subtle way of acknowledging the technological and social progress which followed World War II in reality. Furthermore, the film is extremely well directed by Ralph Thomas, the elder brother of "Carry On" director Gerald Thomas.
Overall, this is a wonderful, understated sci-fi love story which reminded me of "Somewhere in Time", my tenth favourite film of all time.
Review by GusF from the Internet Movie Database.