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Fabulous dramatic mini-series written by John Mortimer
This is a superb dramatic mini-series made for Independent Television in Britain, which has now been rediscovered at last. It was written by John Mortimer, and clearly draws upon his boyhood experiences of growing up in rural Buckinghamshire and his later experiences as a divorce lawyer and then as a criminal barrister. The main character is played brilliantly by David Threlfall, one of Britain finest actors. He plays Leslie Titmuss, son of a working class couple in the country who through overwhelming ambition reinvents himself as a 'gent', marries a rich girl, and ends up as a cabinet minister in Margaret Thatcher's government. Titmuss is a ruthless schemer with little if any moral sense. Threlfall appears to have modelled his portrayal of Titmuss on Cecil Parkinson, for he has perfected the same strangulated way of affected speaking and the same intensely pinched look of earnestness that the cad and bounder Parkinson had. But there is no resemblance between the Titmuss role and Parkinson's affair with Sarah Keays, as Titmuss has no time for affairs and is only interested in power, social advancement, revenge on the toffs who insulted him when young, and riches. The character in the story is thus clearly not meant to be Parkinson. The finest performance of all in this series is perhaps that by Zoe Wanamaker as 'Charlie' Fanner, the wife of Titmuss. This is one of the finest performances of her entire career, and is so subtly modulated that even when she is silent and on the edge of the action, she is busy acting as a distracted and desperate young woman in distress, casting semi-demented glances to right and to left, listening or not listening as the case may be, but always building her character. However, she is never so impolite as to steal scenes from other actors, though it is hard to take one's eyes off her. A marvellous performance is given by Thorley Walters as Doughty strode, a member of the old school gentry who cannot understand how he is being undone by the scheming Titmuss, who tricks him into stepping down from Parliament as the local MP by hinting that he is due for a peerage, and Titmuss then takes his seat in Parliament, and eventually owns his manor house as well. Colin Blakely, who was dying of leukaemia already by this time, gives his final performance as the local doctor, and a great performance it is too. He died at the age of only 56, but this is a terrific performance to remember him by. Richard Vernon is superb, as so often he was, playing the aristocrat who floats above the fray and more or less manages to cope with Titmuss as a son in law. Jill Bennett is scary and electrifying as Vernon's wife, Lady Fanner, in a highly complex part where she has to go to pieces slowly and in bits. Bennett also died young, aged 58, four years later. The other lead role, apart from Titmuss, in the series is the Rev. Simeon Simcox, played in a masterly fashion by the always inspired Michael Hordern. When Simcox dies, he leave a fortune worth millions to Titmuss. The question is: why? He leaves nothing to his sons, played excellently by Peter Egan and Paul Shelley, or his wife, sympathetically played by Annette Crosbie. The series is thus a continuing mystery story as the past is unravelled despite all the best efforts of all the characters not to talk about it. Everyone appearing in the film does a wonderful job. The series is brilliantly directed by Alvin Rakoff, and is one of the triumphs of his long career. John Mortimer's original script is positively inspired, and deeply passionate in its determination to excavate the foundations upon which the strange behaviour of tall he characters is based. It is not so much character development as character analysis. The series is gripping throughout and is one of the best classic British TV drama series of its time, without a doubt. It was followed by the sequel mini-series TITMUSS REGAINED (1991) by Mortimer, also starring David Threlfall, which I shall review in due course. The production design of this series by Michael Stringer deserves special praise.
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