Betrayed by a tale of the unrequited - The Independent Review; March 7, 2005; Thomas Sutcliffe
Love is a fiction. I don't mean by this that love doesn't exist, or that its pleasures are illusory. Just that it often works on us like a story does. We suspend our disbelief, fill in the missing gaps and cherish the unfolding characterisation of our lover, which is rarely quite the same thing as their real character. And professional creators of fiction are no more immune to the process than the rest of us. It isn't a feature of romance (the very word can also mean a fanciful tale) which is often acknowledged in popular drama, where love usually features as a supremely authoritative kind of truth rather than a seductive invention, but it was beautifully explored in Falling, Andrew Davies's adaptation of Elizabeth Jane Howard's novel, about Daisy Langrish, a writer who finds herself falling for the handyman who helps out at her country home.
Casting Michael Kitchen as Henry, a precise, perfectly mannered man who lives in a canal boat just down the towpath from Daisy's new cottage, was the first clever stroke. When he turned to us, shortly after confessing his plan to woo Daisy, and said: "Most men don't know how to treat a woman... I do," you could easily imagine half the audience emitting an involuntary pigeon-coo of response. Few actors can do old-fashioned courtliness better, and that's what Henry seemed to be about at the beginning. What's more, by getting him to buttonhole the camera directly, Davies ensured that none of us were exempt from the seduction. Agatha Christie demonstrated years ago in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd that a first-person narrator always enjoys the presumption of innocence, but it still works today and, if anything, having the character look you in the eyes only amplifies the process. True, Davies has a taste for Machiavellian soliloquys, but Henry was nicely poised here as a predator who may himself have been prey to genuine feeling.
Daisy's novels, we learned, were about "intelligent women who choose the wrong men", but her imagination had not armoured her against the appeal of Henry's romantic backstory - Mills and Boon tales of crossed love that were perfectly cut to fit her lock. And although we knew that something was a little odd and intense about Henry, we couldn't initially be sure that his emotional history wasn't true - an explanation of how he got to be so needy and sensitive about status.
By the time he belted Daisy in the face, after an argument over her reluctance to get married, we knew he was a wrong 'un, but even then we may have shared Daisy's reluctance to believe that we'd made an error of judgement. So Davies punched the truth home with a mordant edit. "I just wanted to walk away with the bit of dignity I had left," said Kitchen sadly, explaining the end of his marriage to Hazel. Cut to a shot of Hazel looking up in horror as Henry reversed the car into her. All this led you to expect a Guignol woman-in-peril ending, but the story finished with something less resolved and much truer. As Henry rode away on the train, his work-in-progress cut short by Daisy, the woman opposite him pulled out a Jilly Cooper novel, and the gleam in his eye told us that he'd spotted someone else with a weakness for a good story.