Brimstone and Treacle (1987)

TV Movie  |   |  Drama  |  25 August 1987 (UK)
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Ratings: 7.7/10 from 193 users  
Reviews: 7 user | 2 critic

The Bates sadly care for their severely disabled daughter Pattie. Martin arrives at their door claiming to be her college friend. He charms them into accepting him as a lodger and carer for Pattie. But Martin is not all he seems.



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Complete credited cast:
Mr. Tom Bates
Martin Taylor
Patricia Lawrence ...
Mrs. Amy Bates
Michelle Newell ...
Pattie Bates
Paul Williamson ...
Esmond Webb ...
Man with dog
Patricia Quayle ...
Woman in street
Man in street


The Bates sadly care for their severely disabled daughter Pattie. Martin arrives at their door claiming to be her college friend. He charms them into accepting him as a lodger and carer for Pattie. But Martin is not all he seems.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis





Release Date:

25 August 1987 (UK)  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


When Martin and Mrs Bates pray at Patricia's bedside, he quotes from "Macbeth" by William Shakespeare (Act 1 Scene 1; "When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?"). See more »


Martin: Eggs. You have any eggs?
Mrs. Bates: Eggs?
Martin: Oval spheroids deposited through the rectum of the domestic fowl.
See more »


Remade as Brimstone & Treacle (1982) See more »


That Old Black Magic
Music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by Johnny Mercer
Performer unknown
Heard when Martin first goes to Patricia's room and later when Martin pushes her in the wheelchair.
See more »

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User Reviews

Disturbing, Profound and Very Entertaining
26 June 2008 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Dennis Potter was a unique and profound talent who wrote many great pieces of work for television. His work was entertaining, witty, satirical, innovative and challenging for both viewers and those involved in the television industry. Brimstone and Treacle is perhaps the most difficult piece he wrote which is reflected in the fact that the BBC banned it for 11 years. I recently watched it again and I found it to be as fresh and as shocking as ever. Viewed in the light of what British TV has become in the last 10 years it was particularly refreshing to be reminded of the quality it was once world famous for.

I really can't speak highly enough of this remarkable work. Firstly there are the superb performances of the three main leads. Michael Kitchen is breath taking to watch and Denholm Elliot was in his element playing a sleazy little man racked with guilt. Patricia Lawrence was also perfect as the downtrodden "mumsy". Dennis Potter's script was perfect and gave them wonderful lines. The story is disturbing and sick but at the same time incredibly funny. I couldn't help laugh at the demented sight of Michael Kitchen wheeling the mentally handicapped Patty around the living room before having his way with her. There was also what were at the time very innovative uses of lighting and camera which are still highly effective even today. There is also the Dennis Potter trade mark use of music.

What really offended people about this play, apart from the fact a mentally handicapped girl is raped, is a that demon comes into the lives of three people in a desperate situation and turns out to be their saviour. Not that he intended to or could care less about them but through his actions he saves Patty from her terrible state and frees "mumsy" from both the tyranny of her husband and having to look after Patty. The only one who comes worse is the father who as it turns out is the truly guilty one.

Early in the play a quote from Kierkegaard is shown on the screen, "There resides infinitely more good in the demonic than in a trivial man". Tom, Denholm Elliot's character, may not be evil but he is sentimental, dishonest, cowardly and racist. He has no real good in him and no real bad in him. He's an ineffective and frustrated little man and lacks the courage and conviction to be good or bad. This is why he is trivial. Martin, Michael Kitchen's character, is a thoroughly wicked demon but is far from trivial and lives a remarkable life. Perhaps the message from this is that it is better to be who you are with total conviction whether that is good or evil than to live a crippled pointless life in which you are neither.

However the exact meaning and message of this play could be debated for years and that is, at least in part, what makes a truly great and profound piece of work.

10 of 12 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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