Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


THE CHARMER (1987 PBS mini series).

"It's a very hard world if one is without money."

I believe this excellent mini-series was first presented on Masterpiece Theatre in the U.S. It is based on Patrick Hamilton's novel Mr. Stimpson and Mr. Gorse, but takes certain liberties with the story, which may be why the name was changed to the more provocative The Charmer. In pre-WW2 London [the later chapters take place after war has broken out] Ralph Gorse (Nigel Havers), an attractive, likable mountebank, hopes to live like a gentleman even though he unfortunately wasn't born to the class. He befriends, romances, and steals from a variety of women, gaining the enmity of Donald Stimpson (Bernard Hepton), a stolid, small-town stick-in-the-mud who had always hoped to marry one of Ralph's victims, Joan Plumleigh-Bruce (Rosemary Leach). All the while Ralph is pursuing the unconventional upper-class Clarice Mannors (Fiona Fullerton), whom he initially assumes is a hooker when she was really just looking for her brother in a whorehouse [but sleeps with Ralph there anyway]. Later Ralph marries a sweet young thing named Pamela (Abigail McKern), and begins an affair with a war widow named Alison (Judy Parfitt). But the stalwart Stimpson is still on his trail. I have not read the novel in quite some time, but if I remember correctly neither Stimpson nor especially Plumleigh-Bruce had as much to do in the second half of the book as they do in the latter chapters of this mini-series, although it's understandable why they were included. This is an absolutely fascinating, darkly humorous [although never "comic"] portrait of a borderline sociopath and the people whose lives he crosses [some to their regret; some not] with a psychologically penetrating script by Allan Prior and some superb acting, especially from Havers, Hepton and Leach. The others already named are also top-notch, as are Gillian Raine and George Baker as Pamela's heart-broken parents. This has been released on DVD and is certainly worth tracking down.

Verdict: Nearly six hours well-spent. ****.

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