ITV Play of the Week: Season 7, Episode 8

Serjeant Musgrave's Dance (24 Oct. 1961)

TV Episode  -   -  Comedy | Drama
7.4
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Ratings: 7.4/10 from 7 users  
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In Victorian England a Puritan sergeant and his three men (who are all deserters and tired of fighting) return from a bloody colonial war, to their colliery hometown. They have with them ... See full summary »

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Title: Serjeant Musgrave's Dance (24 Oct 1961)

Serjeant Musgrave's Dance (24 Oct 1961) on IMDb 7.4/10

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Cast

Episode complete credited cast:
...
Freda Jackson ...
...
Pte Sparky
Jeanne Hepple ...
Annie
Denis Carey ...
Pte Attercliffe
...
Pte Hurst
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Joby Blanshard ...
Walsh
Michael Collins ...
Pugnacious Collier
Trevor Danby ...
Dragoon Officer
Michael Hunt ...
Constable
Stratford Johns ...
Mayor
John Kidd ...
Parson
Derek Newark ...
Dragoon Sjt
Jack Smethurst ...
Slow Collier
John Tate ...
Bludgeon
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Storyline

In Victorian England a Puritan sergeant and his three men (who are all deserters and tired of fighting) return from a bloody colonial war, to their colliery hometown. They have with them their rifles, a Gatling gun and the corpse of 'Billie' one of their own killed in the fighting. As they arrive In the town, a strike at the colliery is on the point of erupting into violence. The Sergeant promises the Mayor, his men will bring the situation under control and remove the trouble makers. A barmaid further adds to the confusion and things do not go as planned. Written by grunsel

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Comedy | Drama

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Release Date:

24 October 1961 (UK)  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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User Reviews

 
Politics, Sex and Religion
13 June 2009 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

This TV play is a remarkable historical document. The theatre play was only written in 1959 and in 1961 the actual playwright, John Arden, personally revamped his text into a screenplay. In so doing, the Times critic of the day remarked that he had significantly improved the accessibility of the piece. Given the way this TV play seems to have entirely dropped off the radar I thought I would make a quick run-through of the play, as best I can remember it from a very recent trip to the British Film Institute.

The play opens with a bearded Patrick McGoohan's Serjeant Musgrave overseeing the arrival of a large wooden box into a dour and freezing Northern British coal town. He is accompanied by three Privates. We are made aware that something is very wrong....... The army men begin to settle into the town. They appear to be a recruiting party, seeking men for the glorious army. The town is not a well place. The coal-miners have been in dispute with the colliery owners and the result has been a 'lock-out'. The Establishment is determined to break the will of the social agitators in the town. The towns-people are united however. The arrival of the recruiting serjeant leads the authorities to spot an opportunity to break their ranks. The mayor approaches the serjeant and offers him 2 gold sovereigns to add to the queens shilling, for every man he manages to recruit. Serjeant Musgrave keeps his own counsel but we begin to guess the corruption of the establishment is adding fuel to some unknown fire of anger within him.

The recruiting party find rooming at the local pub. Two women run the place, the older women empathetic to the bitterness she already sees within these soldiers, especially the tall bearded strongest one; whilst the younger daughter sees the masculinity she craves and has lost, her soldier lover has gone, their baby dead at birth - she alone after his death. The mother tells Black Jack of her daughters loss....... Black Jack tells her of a soldier he once knew, called Billy. Her daughters boy was called Billy.......

The real purpose of the soldier quartet is pretty much fully explicated in a scene in a snow-blown, desolate graveyard. One of them, played by John Thaw, is only there because Black Jack Musgrave has a hold over him, because of his shooting in the streets of an faraway city of the British Empire; streets that saw the death of Billy, streets that saw the slaughter of many in military reprisal for Billy's death. These traumatised soldiers are locked together in some strange embrace of vengeance. Whilst in the midst of their deliberations, the towns-people interrupt, warning the soldiers that if they attempt to break their *strike* they will find they will not succeed. Black Jack assures them that their industrial unrest is none of his concern. he invites them all for a drink at the town pub, where he and his colleagues are now rooming.

We switch to the pub. It is later and the pub is full of drinking men, hosted by an ebullient Black Jack. The young girl is making her away around the soldiers, seeking something, something she remembers as love. She rebuffs the junior soldiers playfully, assuring them that first she must have the big guy...... She is warned, but she does not listen...... Black Jack angrily rebuffs her advance, warning her to keep her carnality away from his men, who must not be side-tracked from their mission! Needless to say, Jack's will is not to be obeyed.

Later that night, whilst Jack is having nightmares of death in an upper room, comforted by the mother, down in the stables below the men are to be found in jealous male combat over the woman and the most harmless, Sparky, is killed by an accident of the struggle. As Jack's black dream explodes into the reality of more death the body is hidden, another death to be atoned for.... and it is this town that is going to pay the price for all the death these soldiers have seen.

The mayor thinks that Jack is going to save his town and the recruiting fayre assembles in the town square. After a variety of speechifying by the great and good, Jack comes to explain himself and soon he comes to the tools of his trade..... the rifle, the bayonet and then he unveils the Gatling gun, "Bang Bang Bang Bang" he recites the story of the soldier and then unveils his greatest secret. From the same box as the machine gun Black Jack draws up the skeleton of the dead Billy, draped by a Union Jack. He has a plan of "perfect number and logic". There were five men killed for Billy by the military reprisal. This town sent Billy to the army, so there will be five of each of these people for those five killed for their Empire! 25 for 5. Perfect numbers. Perfect Logic.

As the full enormity and terror of Jack's black plans emerge, the town panics, but then the dragoons searching for the four deserters arrive! The town is saved! A second of Jack's gang is shot down and finally there is just Jack and the older soldier, the one riven with guilt and the one mad with ideas of divine plans for just retribution. The world continues oblivious. The world-weary but sympathetic mother brings them both a drink and comforts Jack, reminding him that whilst the towns-folk are hungry and poor they have no interest in the troubles of others. The error of Jack's anticipated modus-operandi with the Gatling gun is pointed out to him by his now rueful companion: "You cannot fight the pox by whoring".

Patrick McGoohan dominates the play as the crazed Serjeant and the 1961 critic who said this was his best TV performance to that date was surely not wrong.


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