October, 1912 James is secretly dating Miss Forrest - his fathers Secretary, who has since become their Housekeeper. At the time of his proposal to Hazel, his father is also learning of another secret; namely, that his late wife of six months Lady Marjorie had confided in her dearest friend Lady Prudence Fairfax, that she would hope Richard in the event of her death would 're-marry'. At the time of airing, it is unclear whether or not this was a hint at plans of the character Richard Bellamy marrying Lady Prudence - at least this is intimated by words from the staff below stairs. (even if a red herring)
However; James' secret gets out, and because Hazel Forrest has a deeper guarded secret of her own concerning her past, has to turn him down. In doing so, James blames his father, and assumes wrongly that he has 'deterred' Hazel from marrying him - probably on the basis of his flippant 'philandering with Phyllis Kingman, and the affair with one-time underhouse maid Sarah.
This is an interesting episode and shows how difficult it was for differing classes to accept and tolerate various situations. Hazel marrying into the upper classes, being middle class herself, whilst one might feel this a good thing, was in fact viewed by many as 'inappropriate'. But what really makes things awkward is the discovery that Hazel Forrest has been married before...
This episode brings the great Meg Wynn Owen permanently into the series as 'Hazel Bellamy' for the next two seasons. She would turn out to be one of the most tragic figures from the outset...
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Let me say, at the outset, that I adore this series, particularly Season 3, for myriad reasons. However, this episode is an absolute gem, in my view.
First, the preceding three episodes lead up to "A Family Secret" superbly. It should come as no surprise that James is in love with Hazel and wants to marry her. Many are put off by Hazel's asking James to 'declare his intentions,' but the proposal scene is beautifully acted and impeccably penned - down to the background music at the restaurant, which lends great authenticity to this sequence.
One does feel, in my opinion, very sorry for Richard Bellamy in this episode. First, Lady Prudence is pulling out all the stops to fire him up and reel him in for marriage. But Richard won't have it - in a very moving scene, with nary a word spoken, we see how Richard is mourning his late wife. Then Miss Forrest abruptly resigns her post as Richard's secretary, to his amazement and bewilderment. When he discovers that James has fallen in love with Hazel, he is thrown yet again and disapproves most vehemently. Ultimately, he must accept that there will be a new master and mistress of the house and that things won't be quite the same. David Langton is outstanding in this episode.
One of the loveliest scenes, in the entire series, in my opinion is between James and Mrs. Bridges. He ventures downstairs to canvass opinion about Miss Forrest and how the staff would feel if she were to become the mistress of the house. It's outstanding, and Angela Baddeley shines. Leonard Trolley, as Hazel's father, is incandescent when he arrives at Eaton Place to have a talk with James about Hazel's past. British character acting at its apogee.
I can't say enough about Meg Wynn Owen. Whenever she's on the screen, I can not take my eyes off of her. In Hazel Forrest Bellamy, we have the happy marriage of a beautifully drawn character, played by a supreme talent superbly directed. She's at her very best in "A Family Secret." Seldom have I encountered a character, in any medium, as compelling and memorable as Hazel.
I have always felt that this episode doesn't get the recognition nor the credit it so richly deserves. It's 50 minutes of the British drama at its very best. Irrespective of what becomes of James and Hazel and their marriage, it is here, in this episode, that I choose to remember them.
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