on 14 March 2004
How wonderful to watch again this classic ITV serial from the late 1980s. And how well it has stood the test of time.
Memory sometimes plays tricks with TV programmes – we become a little starry-eyed about them, and when we get the chance to see them once more, we can be quite disappointed.
But not this time. The Charmer, for want of a better phrase, certainly retains its charm. And let's not forget – it was also quite brutal, with Nigel Havers playing that nasty but suave character, Ralph Gorse.
Wonderful performances, also, from Rosemary Leach and Fiona Fullerton, who are both captivated by the smooth-talking conman, and from Bernard Hepton, who soon sees through the deceit.
The series also delightfully and convincingly recreates the era in which it is set.
A shame, though, that the DVD release contains no extras – an interview with the leading actors recalling their involvement with the six-part series would have added a nice touch.
The Charmer is based on the book Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse by Patrick Hamilton, whose work also includes the stage play Rope which Alfred Hitchcock was to later make into a film.
Hamilton was born in March 1904, and it's sad that in this, the centenary year of his birth, the DVD fails to contain a profile or tribute to this largely forgotten, and certainly under-rated, author.
"Not too tight, old boy," says Ralph Gorse at the end of The Charmer. We've spent nearly 312 minutes leading up to this point. They are 312 well spent minutes.
Gorse (Nigel Havers) is a charming English con man in the early Thirties. He lives by his amoral wits, seducing, enticing and working the side deals. He wants everything he isn't and everything he hasn't. Eventually he works his way up to murder. The Charmer, a wonderful Masterpiece Theater presentation now twenty years old, maintains every bit of its queasy allure, thanks in large part to Havers, to Rosemary Leach and to Bernard Hepton. Leach plays Joan Plumleigh-Bruce, a somewhat frumpy upper-middle class, snobbish Englishwoman, a widow who attracts Gorse's attention because of her property and her income. Hepton plays Donald Stimpson, a man who wears round, thick eyeglasses, has a rather silly mustache and is a property broker. He is a long-time friend and wooer of Joan, and he also fancies a marriage to her, to her income and to her property. The idea of a regular bit of the old bed springs is attractive to Stimpson, too. When Gorse meets Donald and, through him, Joan, the main pieces in this sly, malicious and self-serving game come into play.
In the course of this six-part series we will watch Gorse woo and manipulate, empty bank accounts, impregnate, cause a fire with fatal results, seduce, and murder. Following his trail like a middle-aged, self-serving angel of retribution is Donald. And Donald pulls along in his wake Joan, a woman who knows she was had and scorned, who still loves her Rafe but has Donald whispering to her that Rafe must be held accountable. Donald, of course, would like nothing better than to see Gorse brought down, partly because he detests Gorse and partly because he is sure that will be the path back to Joan's heart, bed and finances.
Is there anyone likable in this drama? Not really, and that's so satisfying. It is the ability of Gorse, Joan and Donald to ignore their real motives and fail to hide their real moral characters from us that gives us so much pleasure. By the end of the drama, Gorse, Joan and Donald each in their own way find a comeuppance that allows us to think our own upright moral characters might even be real.
Nigel Havers has a particularly tough job giving us the picture of Ralph Gorse. Havers must show us what a heel the man is, yet he also must make us see Gorse's charm. We know when Gorse is thinking up some disreputable betrayal for his own benefit. We can see how he is justifying a death. Havers also is able to show us how seductive, how pleasant, how companionable Gorse can be when he wants to. Rosemary Leach gives us a wonderful portrayal of a singularly unlikable, self-deluding woman who wants to be loved, who flutters at Gorse's attentions, who rather likes Donald's insistent courting and who thinks nothing of giving her young Irish maid condescending disdain. And last, we have Bernard Hepton, in my view one of the best of Britain's skilled character actors. With those thick glasses and that mustache, Hepton turns Donald Stimpson into a figure of slightly pompous amusement for us; that is, until we begin to realize just how resentful Stimpson is becoming, and how relentless he is in the pursuit of bringing down Gorse. Hepton turns Stimpson into a little man dangerous to underestimate, who simply won't let go.
The Charmer is murderous black comedy that is a great deal of fun, and features three outstanding performances.
on 27 January 2008
This was an enjoyable and surprisingly startling series. Given a post watershed schedule when it was aired back in 1987 one was left to wonder what all the fuss was about as even the scene in the knocking shop was merely suggestive without being graphic. It seems that the Ralph Gorse character (played admirably by Nigel Havers) was nothing more than a wideboy with a plum in his mouth. It is only when you see Gorse tie up Clarice Manners (the object of his affection, played with little conviction by Fiona Fullerton) that you get a hint of his more sadistic side.
The contrast of the more twee and civilised mannerisms of Gorse's first victim Joan Plumleigh-Bruce (played wonderfully by Rosemary Leach) and her confidant Donald Stimpson (played equally well by Bernard Hepton) provide a nice contrast to the murkier depths that Gorse goes to in order to provide a means of support to Clarice. The tug of war between Plumleigh Bruce's forgiveness and Stimpson's suspicion tied in with Gorse's increased desperation makes this a fascinating series with a dramatic conclusion in which ultimately everyone's a loser.
I enjoyed this immensely at the time, and was willing to catch up with it again some 20 or so years later and enjoyed it as much, if not more. If it was made by ITV today they would try and squeeze it into a 2 hour special on a Sunday night, so one should appreciate the depth and quality that went into this production. Worth a look.
on 26 December 2008
This top quality, six part 1987 drama is an excellent example of what happens when casting directors get it just right.
Nigel Havers, Bernard Hepton and Rosemary Leach are the intertwined trio in middle class 1939 southern England.
Havers is the superficially suave psychopathic "Charmer" of the title who gets his hooks into middle-aged, wealthy widow Leach. Hepton is the "cuckolded" self-made, successful local businessman consumed by jealousy who turns into Nemesis.
All three of these talented performers are on top form closely followed by an excellent supporting cast which includes George Baker and Judy Parfitt.
Whether you remember this highly entertaining series or not it has certainly stood the test of time and is well worth watching.
on 28 March 2013
This is very watchable and the three lead actors are all excellent, especially Nigel Havers as the dreadful Ralph Gorse. It's an unusual story and it's tightly paced and has been put together without any padding - very good crisp direction. Bernard Hepton is so watchable in everything he does and his portrayal in this is wonderfully awful. In fact, nobody in it is very nice, but you do want to find out what happens to them all, so the piece is the equivalent of a page-turner. Glad we bought it and it dosn't appear 'stagey' or dated as some older TV series do to the viewer used to seeing modern production values.