DVD region 2. Network.
BBC has a long tradition of costume drama, but has rarely dipped
a toe into the Victorian Gothic waters, preferring the more viewer-friendly
blandness of Jane Austen and the like. But on occasion, they have
pushed to boat out with more interesting efforts, and this three
part adaptation of Le Fanu’s Uncle Silas from 1988
is one of them. Shot before the thirst for ratings and a desire
to revamp every story to fit with the sensibilities and pretensions
of a small Metropolitan clique, The Dark Angel
is a full-blooded slice of melodrama that – like most of
the genre – almost becomes full-blooded horror, and is topped
by a ferociously florid performance from Peter O’Toole.
Maud Ruthyn (Beatie Edney) is a young heiress, who we first see
leading a sheltered life with her father in their country mansion.
When a sinister French governess Madame de la Rougierre (Jane
Lapotaire) comes to stay, Maud’s life quickly becomes a
misery, with petty acts of sadism and psychological torture from
the laudanum-addled older woman. Eventually, de la Rougierre’s
misdeeds are discovered and she is dismissed, but soon after,
Maud’s father dies, and she is sent to live with Uncle Silas
(O’Toole), the black sheep of the family. Things start well,
with Maud bonding with Silas and his daughter, but soon things
take a sinister turn – Silas’ son Dudley (Tim Woodward)
has unsavoury designs on Maud, and Silas himself soon turns out
to be far from the kindly uncle he seemed to be; rather, he is
determined to get his hands on Maud’s inheritance to pay
of the debts that are crippling him, and soon Maud is being held
captive in the crumbling family home, while Silas and de la Rougierre
ply her with drugs, attempt to convince her she is mad and make
plans for a more permanent end to her.
is a handsomely mounted effort – no mixing between film
and videotape here, the who production has a definite style to
it, and the direction from Peter Hammond, who had plenty of practice
on this sort of thing thanks to his work on the Sherlock
Holmes TV series of the time, is assured. Edney is an
appealing heroine, very much in the gothic tradition, while Lapotaire
is convincingly sinister and O’Toole dominates every scene
he’s in, occasionally chewing the scenery, but always fascinating
as the opium crazed, bad egg. His final scenes of dementia are
pretty impressive – and it’s probably fair to say
that O’Toole had first-hand experience of how to act the
role of a howling drunk!
If there is a fault in this production, it is that the pacing
is somewhat leisurely – I’m not sure the story justifies
three hours, and the slow parts tend to be a little too much in
the tradition of British TV’s worst excesses. But these
moments are few, and will probably seem less noticeable if you
don’t watch all three episodes in one sitting, as I did.
In any event, the story builds steadily until the third episode,
where the madness kicks in and all the hints of bad things to
come are delivered on.
This is a show that has been much anticipated – only edited
VHS versions have been previously available – and it doesn’t
disappoint. It’s good to see less immediately commercial
BBC product like this being allowed out on other labels. Let’s
hope there is more to come..
IT NOW (UK)