BBC2 Play of the Week: Season 1, Episode 17

She Fell Among Thieves (5 Feb. 1980)

TV Episode
7.6
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Ratings: 7.6/10 from 37 users  
Reviews: 5 user | 2 critic

A villainess concocts a nefarious plot around her stepdaughter and matches wits with an English gentleman adventurer.

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Title: She Fell Among Thieves (05 Feb 1980)

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Cast

Episode credited cast:
...
Richard Chandos
...
Vanity Fair
...
Mansel
...
Jenny
Sarah Badel ...
Virginia
Philip Locke ...
Acorn
Richard Pearson ...
Father Below
Freda Jackson ...
Lafone
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Ralph Arliss ...
Bell
Simon Cadell ...
Candle
Derek Deadman ...
Luis
Pat Gorman ...
John
...
Carson
...
Gaston
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A villainess concocts a nefarious plot around her stepdaughter and matches wits with an English gentleman adventurer.

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based on novel

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5 February 1980 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Because the plot of the original story was so elaborate, this adaptation is actually an original story featuring the novel's characters. See more »

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User Reviews

 
Wicked Fun Game
6 October 2013 | by (Greenwich, CT United States) – See all my reviews

By all rights, "She Fell Among Thieves" should fall flat on its face. It has a convoluted plot, overbaked performances, and period atmosphere so thick you might almost choke on it. The first time I saw it, I wondered how talented people could produce such a silly show.

Then I saw it again, and realized I had missed completely a delightful period send-up, droll and knowing yet not without sympathy for the mores of a bygone day. Stick with this one through its abrupt plot twists and deliberately oddball moments, and you get a clever mystery/comedy that manages to deliver excitement and suspense.

Richard Chandos (Malcolm McDowell) is an English country squire on a fishing vacation in southern France's Gave de Pau valley when he spots a body in the river. Because he somehow recognizes the corpse as that of an Englishman, he goes to the British consulate rather than the French police. There, a secret agent recruits him to infiltrate a château occupied by master criminal Vanity Fair (Eileen Atkins).

While McDowell is first-billed and the biggest name in the cast, Atkins is the star here. Her Vanity Fair is the tipping point for whether one enjoys "She Fell Among Thieves" or not. The first time I saw it, I found her character too much, like a whacked-out Bette Davis impersonation by Carol Burnett. But watching her again, I realized how she was giving it up in two directions, playing the comedy for suspense and the suspense for laughs. She's so lively she brings up the level of engagement for everything around her, from her big entrance at the film's start to her unforgettable last line at the close. In short, she's totally nuts but a lot of fun.

A straighter production would likely fall afoul of the casual racialism and class distinctions found in Dornford Yates's source novel, a classic of 1920s adventure fiction that's rather dated now. Instead, director Clive Donner employs Atkins and the other outré elements to play up the disconnect between then and now, finding subtle avenues for comedy while introducing an element of real suspense. You know a character like Vanity Fair wouldn't stand a chance in a Boys' Own adventure story like the original novel; what could happen in this 1977 adaptation seems anyone's guess.

McDowell does a fine job playing Chandos as a kind of eager-beaver who puts his life on the line to protect British currency and save people he doesn't know. You buy his innocence as much as you do Atkins' saucier cunning; when he catches some bounder fondling a struggling maid's thigh and tells the guy what he'll do if he catches him again at his "filthy tricks," his granite indignation is almost enough to forget McDowell probably shot this scene before jetting off to Rome to shoot 70 more hours of "Caligula."

The movie does take too many quick liberties with exposition, with Chandos entirely too eager in his mission and Vanity Fair too careless in hers. But because this is a send-up as much as it is an adventure, there's license here to play around. You enjoy the characters, the scenery, and the witty dialogue by Tom Sharpe too much to mind the gaping holes. It's almost like part of the game ignoring that they are there, a game I didn't mind playing once I realized it was on.


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