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She Fell Among Thieves 

A villainess concocts a nefarious plot around her stepdaughter and matches wits with an English gentleman adventurer.


Clive Donner


Tom Sharpe, Dornford Yates (novel)

On Disc

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Episode credited cast:
Malcolm McDowell ... Richard Chandos
Eileen Atkins ... Vanity Fair
Michael Jayston ... Mansel
Karen Dotrice ... Jenny
Sarah Badel Sarah Badel ... Virginia
Philip Locke ... Acorn
Richard Pearson ... Father Below
Freda Jackson ... Lafone
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Ralph Arliss ... Bell
Simon Cadell Simon Cadell ... Candle
Derek Deadman Derek Deadman ... Luis
Pat Gorman ... John
Bernard Hill ... Carson
Jonathan Lynn ... Gaston


In 1922, in the French Pyrenees, a posh evil matriarch called Vanity Fair is trying to marry off her young and innocent stepdaughter by any vile means necessary in order to inherit the 20 million pounds that her late aristocrat husband and the girl's father left to his daughter as long as the girl does not marry before coming of age. Since this will happened after the girl's upcoming birthday, Vanity in desperation even tries drugging the girl and arranging a forced wedding but her plan fails at the last second when the groom-to-be suddenly drops dead. Handsome British lord Richard Chandos, who's in France on vacation, finds the dead body and decides to investigate the matter himself. Can he outwit Vanity and save the girl from the cruel fate that Vanity plans for her?

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Release Date:

5 February 1980 (USA) See more »

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


The name of lead villainess Vanity Fair is from a city in John Bunyan's novel Pilgrim's Progress (1670s), and was later appropriated for the title of a novel by William Makepeace Thackeray in the 1840s as well as a 20th century fashion magazine. See more »

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User Reviews

Wicked Fun Game
6 October 2013 | by slokesSee all my reviews

By all rights, "She Fell Among Thieves" should fall flat on its face. It has a convoluted plot, overbaked performances, and period atmosphere so thick you might almost choke on it. The first time I saw it, I wondered how talented people could produce such a silly show.

Then I saw it again, and realized I had missed completely a delightful period send-up, droll and knowing yet not without sympathy for the mores of a bygone day. Stick with this one through its abrupt plot twists and deliberately oddball moments, and you get a clever mystery/comedy that manages to deliver excitement and suspense.

Richard Chandos (Malcolm McDowell) is an English country squire on a fishing vacation in southern France's Gave de Pau valley when he spots a body in the river. Because he somehow recognizes the corpse as that of an Englishman, he goes to the British consulate rather than the French police. There, a secret agent recruits him to infiltrate a château occupied by master criminal Vanity Fair (Eileen Atkins).

While McDowell is first-billed and the biggest name in the cast, Atkins is the star here. Her Vanity Fair is the tipping point for whether one enjoys "She Fell Among Thieves" or not. The first time I saw it, I found her character too much, like a whacked-out Bette Davis impersonation by Carol Burnett. But watching her again, I realized how she was giving it up in two directions, playing the comedy for suspense and the suspense for laughs. She's so lively she brings up the level of engagement for everything around her, from her big entrance at the film's start to her unforgettable last line at the close. In short, she's totally nuts but a lot of fun.

A straighter production would likely fall afoul of the casual racialism and class distinctions found in Dornford Yates's source novel, a classic of 1920s adventure fiction that's rather dated now. Instead, director Clive Donner employs Atkins and the other outré elements to play up the disconnect between then and now, finding subtle avenues for comedy while introducing an element of real suspense. You know a character like Vanity Fair wouldn't stand a chance in a Boys' Own adventure story like the original novel; what could happen in this 1977 adaptation seems anyone's guess.

McDowell does a fine job playing Chandos as a kind of eager-beaver who puts his life on the line to protect British currency and save people he doesn't know. You buy his innocence as much as you do Atkins' saucier cunning; when he catches some bounder fondling a struggling maid's thigh and tells the guy what he'll do if he catches him again at his "filthy tricks," his granite indignation is almost enough to forget McDowell probably shot this scene before jetting off to Rome to shoot 70 more hours of "Caligula."

The movie does take too many quick liberties with exposition, with Chandos entirely too eager in his mission and Vanity Fair too careless in hers. But because this is a send-up as much as it is an adventure, there's license here to play around. You enjoy the characters, the scenery, and the witty dialogue by Tom Sharpe too much to mind the gaping holes. It's almost like part of the game ignoring that they are there, a game I didn't mind playing once I realized it was on.

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