Daphne du Maurier’s 1950s novel The Scapegoat is reinvented wonderfully well in the recent TV adaptation, now available on DVD.
The producers have uprooted the tale from France to England and increasingly they move away from the actual events of the original.
But they’ve certainly retained its spirit, and in so doing have created a memorable piece of drama - the absorbing tale of an out-of-work teacher who chances upon his exact double in a London pub as the nation prepares for the Coronation.
It’s a shame to lose the tension of the resistance versus collaboration thread which is so important to the novel, but the sense of a new era dawning stands in well enough.
Former schoolmaster John Standing is weighed down by the emptiness of his life; suddenly standing before him is struggling aristocrat Johnny Spence, a man weighed down by the fullness of his particular existence, trapped by his struggling business and his squabbling family in a crumbling country pile.
For Spence, meeting Standing is an opportunity to do a runner. After a boozy night, Standing wakes up in Spence’s clothes and with Spence’s chauffeur standing over him.
His problem is that no one believes him when he says he isn’t who they think he is – and so he gets sucked into Spence’s deception.
Back at the mansion, Standing, starting to warm to the game, is forced guess his way through the tangled web of Spence’s difficult relatives.
Matthew Rhys is superb in both the roles. He shows us a Spence bored and irritated by a family he disdains; even more impressively, he gives us a Standing slowly but surely coming to love and respect their virtues.
Bizarrely, the substitution starts to work in Standing’s favour... until Spence returns with deadly intent.
Beautifully acted by all concerned and with the very strongest sense of period, this is TV drama at its absorbing best, both a fine tribute to an outstanding novel but also something new which works terrifically.
At the other end of the scale, The Woman In The Fifth is a shocker, that rarest of things, a film which not even Kristin Scott Thomas can rescue.
Ethan Hawke is an addled American, possibly fresh out of prison, seeking to reconnect with his daughter.
In comes Scott Thomas and they hit the sack; but is she real? And then the murders start. In the end, even the director loses interest. The film fizzles out, opting for confusion rather than any kind of resolution.
Rental courtesy of Blockbuster. For other new releases, see www.blockbuster.co.uk.