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On a vacation in France from his nondescript job and life, John Barratt encounters a titled but impoverished French nobleman who looks exactly like him. The nobleman gets John drunk, and switches places with him to take a breather from his failing business and too-complicated life. John tries to convince everyone he is not who they think he is, but he begins to get more and more involved with the count's family, including an unhappy wife, domineering mother, lonely but talented young daughter, bitter spinster sister and the expected mistress. As John gets to know them he feels he can help them with their problems, but is also becoming used to his borrowed life, which has given him a purpose for the first time. Written by
Ron Kerrigan <email@example.com>
When the very last line is spoken by Guinness' character, his lips do not move. While it could be argued the line was part of his narration sprinkled throughout the film, the line does appear to be his direct answer to the question posed to him. See more »
You have the intention of staying long in France, Mr. Barratt?
I don't know. That is to say that I didn't know there was any restriction apart from the question of money.
See more »
Opening credits are shown over various images of the book by Daphne DuMaurier. See more »
As part of a birthday celebration of the late Sir Alec, TCM placed this seldom shown character study in between two hilarious Guinness farces, "Hotel Paradiso" and "All at Sea." In combination with "The Malta Story," "Scapegoat" allowed Guiness to indulge both his more serious dramatic inclinations as well as play another double role, something for which he was a master. His "Kind Hearts and Coronets" is the tour de force of this genre of multiple identities.
This adaptation of Du Maurier's novel has also the advantage of five strong female leads, three of them, Bette Davis, Irene Worth and Pamela Brown, known in their own right for their dramatic achievement. Actually, all of the supporting roles are excellently cast, even to the faithful manservant, Gaston, and especially the count's precocious and very articulate daughter.
Bette Davis, as the matriarch, sets the tone for neurotic tyranny in this family; but it is a role that could have been less of a caricature if Dame Wendy Hiller had played it instead (See Dame Wendy in "Murder on the Orient Express" for the epitome of "noblesse oblige.") In the role of the wife, Irene Worth gains some of our sympathy as the high-strung and beautiful, sensitive but persecuted spouse unable to give the count a male heir. Her mobile and expressive face is a perfect foil to Guiness's stoic reserve.
As the count's sister, Pamela Brown's natural reticence and grave air, her huge luminous eyes and rich voice (which can be savored in an earlier role in "I Know Where I'm going") made her a likely choice in the role of a sibling, however, the differences she shares with her brother are not resolved nor explained, neither is her motivation for being so antagonistic toward him. In other words, through the eliptical, somewhat ambiguous dialogue, there is a history or subtext of sibling rivalry of which we must remain ignorant. (Perhaps the novel delineated this more clearly.)
Despite the strong and balanced cast, I found the ending a surprise and a slight disappointment. For me it failed to resolve Guiness's relationship with the other females save one, his lover. Therefore, despite the putative attempt to plumb his character, it remained an identity problem hardly more than skin deep. Still, all in all, it is a fascinating attempt and a rare chance to see Guinness in a noncombative drama with strong females, somewhat like a diamond set among a ruby, emerald and pearl.
Of four stars, definitely a strong three*** for the excellent cast.
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