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THE DARK ANGEL
DVD region 2. Network.

The Dark AngelThe 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.

The Dark AngelThis 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..

DAVID FLINT

BUY IT NOW (UK)

 

 

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