50s
Monday, 30 November -0001

Television Review: 7 September

The 1950s are in vogue, says Michael Moran, and it makes interesting viewing

Written by Michael Moran
Michael-Moran1Perhaps it's residual Jubilee fever but there does seem to be an unusual number of dramas set in the early 1950s at the moment. Practically everything I've seen on television lately seems to have featured a huge Bakelite TV being installed ready for the Coronation. Now you can add ITV's ambitious new drama The Scapegoat (ITV1, Sunday 9 September at 9pm) to the list.

Set in the 'interregnum' between the death of King George VI and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, The Scapegoat is an adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier's novel of the same name. It's a time when, as one of the characters puts it, 'with nobody on the throne anything can happen'.

The period is one of the major departures from Du Maurier's original story. The Scapegoat wasn't published until 1957. The setting's changed too, from a chateau in France to a rather lovely country house somewhere in the Home Counties.

The plot involves a chance meeting between two men who are doppelgängers. So exactly alike, in fact, that they are able to fool close relatives.

Yes, that's an extremely improbable coincidence, but suspension of disbelief is in this case a price worth paying. The Scapegoat creeps up on you through its nearly two-hour running time until you realise that you're gripped and even though it's after your bedtime there's no possibility of turning off until you find out how it all turns out.

That compulsion to see it through is driven to a large extent by the splendid, subtle central performance from Matthew Rhys. He's tremendous in the twin roles of decent chap John Standing and utter cad Johnny Spence. There are subtle clues in intonation and body language that give the viewer a clue which of the two characters he is, but part of the magic of his performance is you'll never be altogether sure.

Once John Standing has been persuaded to 'stand in' for his aristocratic double, he finds that Johnny Spence is quite the ladies' man. The lovely Alice Orr-Ewing plays his dangerously biddable wife. Sheridan Smith sparkles in a smallish part as his sister-in-law and Sylvie Testud shimmers in the background as a mysterious French artist. Jodhi May is on hand as Johnny's estranged sister and Dame Eileen Atkins is her usual lovably imperious self as his mother.

The Scapegoat is the television equivalent of the holiday novel; big, daft and utterly unputdownable.

By contrast, with each episode lasting a mere hour, The Bletchley Circle (ITV1, Thursday at 9pm) is a little more bite-sized. It's no less satisfying though. After last week's introductory episode, in which Anna Maxwell Martin reassembled her wartime superteam of code crackers things heat up this week. It really is my favourite show of the moment. And, you'll never guess, it's set in the early 1950s.



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