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The Scapegoat (2012)

 |  Drama  |  9 September 2012 (UK)
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Ratings: 7.2/10 from 2,212 users  
Reviews: 6 user | 3 critic

Set in 1952, as England prepares for the coronation, The Scapegoat tells the story of two very different men who have one thing in common - a face.


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Cast overview, first billed only:
John / Johnny
Lady Spence
Father McReady
Mary Lou
Roland Oliver ...
Arthur Moffat


As England is preparing for the coronation of Elizabeth II, schoolmaster John Standing comes face to face with Johnny Spence, his exact double in appearance. After a night of drinking, Standing awakes to find Spence has stolen his identity. Unsuccessful at explaining the unusual situation, Standing settles into the vacancy left by Johnny Spence. Yet with his new life comes numerous problems, including trying to juggle a wife and two mistresses and family secrets that could prove deadly... Written by L. Hamre

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Remake of The Scapegoat (1959) See more »

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A superior version to the original screen adaptation, redolent with atmosphere
15 November 2012 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

I have read the original novel by Daphne du Maurier and seen the earlier film version (1959) three times, most recently in order to remind myself of what our very dear friend Annabel Bartlett looked like as a child (she played the little girl, her only film role). One thing she told me about Alec Guinness, who played the double-lead roles, was that he became fond of her during the filming and remained in affectionate contact with her for the rest of his life, which says a great deal about his character. This remake by the talented director Charles Sturridge, who also wrote the screenplay, is in my opinion superior to the original film. We are all used to remakes being inferior, and groaning when we hear there is going to be another one (for instance, no remake of du Maurier's classic REBECCA has ever been anything but a travesty of Hitchcock's original film with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine), but in this case, everyone can be proud of the result. In this version, the setting of the story is shifted from France to the England of 1952/3, which is an effective change, and enabled Sturridge (best known for directing the original TV series of BRIDESHEAD REVISITED, 1981), to exploit his familiarity with aristocratic English settings of the early to mid 20th century. Another innovation in the story is the amusing sub-plot of the insertion into the grand mansion of a newfangled electronic device known as a television, received and treated with great ceremony. The scene where the entire family sit, with their servants standing behind them, watching the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, is impeccably authentic and evocative, as indeed the whole film is. Therefore, the changes made to the story for this screen adaptation are, I believe, entirely successful. A very clever choice for the double-lead was the actor Matthew Rhys. He is not someone you would notice when walking past him on the street, but he is arresting when in action on the screen, and here he does an excellent job of playing two entirely different characters who happen to be identical doppelgängers (or one might today say clones) of one another. The story is a typically romantic mystery tale by du Maurier, of two men who meet by chance one night and realize that they look exactly like one another. This leads to their changing places, so that the recently sacked schoolteacher with no family or attachments is left in the morning with only the clothes and identity of his 'twin', who turns out to be a prominent aristocrat with a mansion, a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce, a wife, and a substantial squabbling family, even in fact a little girl. All of these the true husband and father abandons, leaving the teacher to assume his role as best he can. Needless to say, his family find him strangely changed, kinder, more considerate, and wonder 'what has come over him'. He has to learn on the hoof who he 'is', how to find his own bedroom, discovers that he has a mistress in the town, is alarmed to discover that he has been having an affair with his brother's wife and finds her difficult to shake off, cloying and demanding as she is. At the same time, the family business is going broke and he is expected to save it. His sister (the wonderfully weird Jodhi May, one of my favourite actresses because she is so unlike other people and seems to emerge from some tormented dimension of another hologram than ours) is estranged from him and takes every opportunity to insult him. His little girl is dejected from lack of his attention. This story is not a naturalistic tale, though it is treated as one, since it is difficult to imagine all of this really happening, even back in those days when identities were not yet shrink-wrapped. But it is an intriguing and captivating romance, with what the trendies at the BBC like to call 'a great deal of edge to it'. One welcome new addition to the screen is the young actress Alice Orr-Ewing, not long out of drama school. She had a minor role in A FANTASTIC FEAR OF EVERYTHING (2012, see my review), but her scenes all ended up on the cutting room floor, so she does not list it in her credits. This is therefore her first significant screen appearance. She glows well on celluloid, and manages to capture the viewer's attention despite playing a feeble character, the lead character's wife Frances, with whom one would normally have very little sympathy, because feeble women are always so annoying. But she makes the character have a deeper dimension, so that we end up liking her rather than being exasperated by her. Also this actress has an after-taste, like a good burgundy. There is no doubt that Alice Orr-Ewing was born to appear in period dramas, as she is an ethereal creature of another era, and has a genuine Joan Fontaine quality about her. Long may she keep her Orr in. The art direction of this film is superb, the costumes are splendid, it all looks luscious, and the improbable tale is strangely gripping. And as Louis B. Mayer might have said, it even has a Western Union, I mean a message, of sorts that is, namely who are we anyway?

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