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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's more rewarding to play the old man" (Eric Porter abort playing
It was 4th July 1967 when, after 14 months of shooting, the cast and crew finally finished their work on the adaptation successfully. The viewers, with even greater emotions and curiosity, got absorbed by the emotional crescendo in "Swan Song." 'Aren't we emotional still?" one could ask. But before reviewing this episode, let me outline certain motives that drove me to comment on THE FORSYTE SAGA in such a detailed manner.
Its popularity in my country, Poland, was something of a phenomenon. Since the early 1970s can be considered as the heyday of the communist times, anything that was not Soviet nor 'Polish' in that very condensed sense of the word was highly censored by the authorities but met with even greater enthusiasm within the society. Any work subjected to cautious control by the regime naturally works the opposite way being its recommendation among people. In this way, such 'rarities' for Polish audiences as the American RICH MAN POOR MAN, and the English THE FORSYTE SAGA enjoyed wide acclaim. To a great surprise, THE FORSYTE SAGA was the first ever British series bought by the Soviet Union. As a result, Poland followed its footsteps and broadcast the entire series in the early 1970s with unique dubbing version (dubbing was something of a rarity since we are used to the voice-over). As the series was a 'national obsession' (Cliff Michelmore) in Britain, so it was in many other countries, including Poland. My early childhood memories mark the re-broadcasts of the serial in the mid 1980s when, I remember, it was still extremely popular.
Nowadays, however, in a restored DVD version, we can all admire the 26 episodes beautifully directed by David Giles and James Cellan Jones and produced by Donald Wilson. In spite of its black and white and quite rigid confinement within the limitations of interiors mostly (there are only a few moments outside, namely those that stand for the youthful love and freedom), this adaptation is in no way dated. All thanks to truly brilliant performances of "such a distinguished team of actors" (David Giles), terrific costumes by Joan Ellacott and atmospheric designs by Spencer Chapman. Still, after almost half a century, it still moves us, involves us and lets us drown in the world of nostalgia therein depicted. Therefore, I have a soft spot for this series and I think that each episode really has something unique to offer, something was has been worth writing about. And now something about the final episode...
Like once, it was Robin Hill, the rest-house and a place of relief for some Forsytes, it is now Dorking where memorable Mrs Gadsden (Hilda Barry) answers the phone. A couple who have common memories but different natures: one loves the scent of drought, the other the smell of rain. The feverish Fleur (Susan Hampshire) and transparent, decent Jon (Martin Jarvis) return to their sentimental places of youthful songs. Things come about, things resulting in satisfaction in one and regret in the other. The scenes in nature, anyway, echo or complement their scenes in episode 13. Meanwhile, Soames (Eric Porter) visits an old parish, digs the archive books and reflects at the gravestones of his ancestors, unable to glimpse the vision of the youth. In all this, we feel the emotional climax. How much meaning the Forsytes convey to us, how similar we all are. A song sung in life about life, its mistakes, its disappointments, its dreams, rewards, punishments, regrets, sufferings and joys. This is the song whispered within the final comedy where we all get, not the 'modern comedy' but a universal one, this is the swan song with its reflective and unique sound
reflecting readiness to reach out one's hand in reconciliation;
ability to grant and accept forgiveness;
awakening conscience amidst the chirping birds and tolling of bells;
some little 'irresponsibility' for the sake of greater goodness in the long run; readiness to speak one's mind;
father's care and reassurance of his daughter's activity;
promise to the dying man;
hopeful certainty that 'future has already been arranged;'
As it was more rewarding for Eric Porter to play the old Soames, it is most rewarding for us to watch the final episode which is incredibly focused and grasps the most important aspects that we have analyzed in the characters for such a long time. Thanks to great, absolutely terrific performances, the characters instilled an illusion that they really come alive from the book on the screen.
Meanwhile, the continuity and certain parallels work here most powerfully. Just to mention Irene and Fleur's conversation that wonderfully echoes Francis and Helene's conversation in episode 2. Soon, we get the last encounter of Soames and Irene. Mind you where that is...in June's studio, the place of art....as art once inspired their first meeting, so it does their last meeting; yet, the results are very different pointing at the fact that EXPERIENCE has the strongest impact in male personality. It is nicely contrasted to the scene of forgiveness between Jon and Anne and the scene of healthy distance to life itself between Holly and Michael. Everything changes but...
"in case of forgiving, you never know" (old, faithful Gradman)
"Love is the most cruel thing in the world" (Jon Forsyte); yet, it is the only thing worth living for.
That variety in the circle of life and a rewarding song about saving the one that you love most seems to be the true legacy of any man, even the 'man of property' who tried to save it by all means and yet, cannot take it with him to the opposite bank.
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