Daisy (Penelope Wilton), a middle-aged writer in the throes of a painful marriage break-up, retreats to a northern England canal-side cottage to lick her wounds and get some work done. She is buttonholed by Henry (Michael Keating), a rather odd character living in a nearby barge, who persuades her to takes him on as a gardener/maintenance man, despite the suspicions of her agent. Henry moves to take advantage of his situation and soon Daisy, despite her misgivings, finds herself becoming emotionally attached to him.
The story is based on a real-life experience of the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, who amongst other works produced the Cazalet novels. It all rings true emotionally; Daisy, suffering writer's block as well as an unfaithful husband is an easy mark for someone like Henry. Henry, though he does have "form", is no diabolic monster; he is a fantasist from a working class background unable to fit in anywhere in the English class system except as an unsuitable lover.
Michael Keating is a perfect Henry; his anxious charm hiding his manipulations. Perhaps the suspense is a little less because it is hard to see him as a black-hearted villain, and indeed he is not he is more the naughty boy who never grew up. Penelope Wilton conveys Daisy's emotional vulnerability beautifully.
Like real life, the ending is mundane, but the charm of this piece is in the way it is done. A fair amount of flashback is used to explain how Henry got the way he is, and it often seems more vivid than the present. It was very brave of Elizabeth Jane Howard to expose to the world what does seem to have been a considerable error of judgment on her part, but in seeking to explain Henry she has written an absorbing story. Here, the film-makers seem to have done a fine job of adaptation. A very superior TV movie.
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