While law and legal perceptions seemed to take over in the first episodes and the painting as itself was not taken much into account by the Forsytes who saw no money in it (note young Jolyon), now it grows in value and respect. The opening scene with Michael's narration about his father-in-law Soames who buys pictures does not necessarily lead to 'leisure for repentance' (as noted wittingly by Marquess) but to long-term plans of an elderly gentleman already tired of life and the times he is bound to live in. Two gentlemen, as different as they may seem, have one thing in common: the spirit of the age is against them.
The opening scene of Soames and Marquess' encounter is nothing short of perfection. Soames buys the picture Mooreland from Marquess. But, as the Forsytes aim at buying confidence, Soames finds Marquess' bargain flawed. Yet, for the very lines they utter and brilliant performances, the scene alone makes the episode worth seeing. Soon, we move to the center of attention, Fleur (Susan Hampshire).
She sits for the portrait at Harold Blade's, the painter who has already painted the portrait of Anne, Jon's wife. As an artist, he has a certain flair to see into various people's characters and it is a pity that the episode does not develop his character more deeply but resorts to a few scenes. But anyway, there are many other things highly worth considering and aspects beautifully dramatized.
Fleur sits in gold and silver (here, kudos to Joan Ellacott's costumes) but does not behave much like the ancestors for whom there were two options in life generally (as Sir Lawrence Mont points out): voluntary service or nothing. Her scheme and her passions will soon be revealed, partly thanks to the portrait. Susan Hampshire delivers some best part of her performance here having deeply studied Fleur and having developed in the role. In a January 1991 interview at the Alexandra Theater in Birmingham, Richard Amphlett observed that "there is superficiality about her pragmatic and astute demeanor, and an intuitive intelligence in her mode of thinking." That appears most transparent in this episode. But now, let me highlight another point of the episode that seems to me truly unforgettable.
Michael (Nicholas Pennell) displays certain enthusiasm in the committee interested in dealing with those who own slum properties and aiming at investment in general slum conversion fund by dispossessing landlords, not the people. As much as the meeting may at first appear as a humorous relief and prompting certain irony when the squire takes the chair there is, in fact, a lovely 'portrait' of various characters. Marquess (George Benson), of course has his terrific lines about electrifying kitchens, Wilfred Bentworth (George Merritt) so much promoted by Michael's father with character over cleverness, Timothy Fanfield (Clive Morton) with his persuasive tongue. The top of wit appears when they need a solicitor...Soames, a respectable expert at legal matters, joins them. He has been a 'steady brain' for Marquess since they met at the paintings. All comes to a rather unpredictable conclusion and Coaker...what a piece of advice given to her...
Meanwhile, the 'Stainford-Oxford' case contributes to the study of characters and situations. How different reactions are the whole thing being 'damn funny' for Val (Jonathan Burn) and 'monstrous' for Soames.
A mention should also be made of the faithful chap, the oldest friend the Forsytes have - Gradman (Clifford Parrish) when, in a scene with a sentimental touch, he visits Winifred and Soames. All are, indeed, no age to speak of when compared to him and his lifelong loyalty. Afterwards, Soames and Winifred become reflective while looking at the picture of their grandfather, the 'Superior Dosset' ... and asking questions: What have they gained? What have they lost? In fact, it is here when viewers truly sympathize with Soames. He becomes quite a likable chap, in spite of everything.
And Fleur? The canteen during the strike gave her a taste for power and with this 'social butterfly' it results in schemes... As much as in the portrait as in real life, she conceals everything from everyone. Terrific final scene with Michael! The moon and the two that seem to be so close to each other and, yet, are so apart. Common sense does not suffice at her passions that possess her, far from being directioned: passion to know, passion to have but, unfortunately, no passion to give. One of the very best episodes! 9/10