Falling

Romance with intent - Daily Mail; March 7, 2005; Peter Paterson

There were numerous moments during Falling, last night's melancholy drama, when I felt like grabbing Penelope Wilton by the shoulders and telling her not to be so soppy.

Or to shout a warning whenever Michael Kitchen started to get all smoochy and talk to her of marriage. This story, adapted by Andrew Davies from a (we're told) semi-autobiographical novel by Elizabeth Jane Howard, could hardly be further from the gentle cadences of Davies's most famous TV adaptation, Jane Austen's Pride And Prejudice.

Wilton played Daisy Langrish, a middlingly successful novelist who in her 50s has bought a cottage in Yorkshire for recuperation from the hurly-burly of London: she's recently caught her second husband in their bed with another woman, and the details of the divorce are wearing her down.

As she moves into the cottage, she's approached by Kitchen's Henry Kent, offering to put her overgrown garden in order. At first she's wary, sensing that there's something slightly peculiar about him, that he's a little too familiar, too willing to please.

Such was the way the story was structured, we had already been warned about Henry, having seen him on a train talking to an unseen woman of the joy of romantic love - 'the kind that hits you like a thunderbolt, leaves you breathless, your heart pounding'. Here, clearly, was a master of the chat-up line.

It is obvious what he's up to when his first, highly symbolic, gesture is to light Daisy's fire in her cottage. When she breaks her leg during a return visit to London, Henry writes to her, telling the story of his early life, expressing his admiration for her novels and declaring how close he feels to her.

Inspected later by Langrish's agent, Anna Blackstone (Sylvestra Le Touzel), Henry is found wanting - 'There's something not right about him,' she tells Daisy. But the writer won't be deterred from sending 'the wondrous Mr Kent' a key to the cottage and some money on account.

When Daisy moves to the cottage for a prolonged stay, Henry embarks on some serious wooing, waiting on her, doing the housework and constantly flattering her. She's oblivious to the resemblance he has to the fawning Uriah Heep - 'I'm so 'umble' - in Dickens's David Copperfield.

But thanks to Andrew Davies's idea - far closer to the novel form than most TV dramas - of allowing us to hear the private thoughts of Daisy and Henry, we know that she's falling for him, and that he's cynical, manipulative and deceitful.

Foe example, he muses that while he loves her, what most attracts him to Daisy is that she's obviously well-off. To get closer to her, he scuttles his home, a canal barge, so she cannot turn him out of the spare room he's temporarily occupied since she had a fall in the garden.

For her part, she says to herself: 'He fancies me, and in a way - not that I'd ever let it come to anything - I rather fancy him.' She's impressed by what she sees as his delusive romantic notions. I wish they'd televise more of Elizabeth Jane Howard's novels.