Falling

Mr Right turns out wrong again - The Times; March 7, 2005; Paul Hoggart

If you think about it, most television dramas involve women falling for unsuitable men. Sensible women who see through the bastards and hook up with decent, well-meaning chaps may possibly be in a small majority in the population as a whole, but they don’t make scintillating viewing. An emotional train wreck is much more fun.

The first unusual aspect of Falling (ITV1, Sunday) was that the heroine, Daisy Langrish (Penelope Wilton), was not on a self-deluding quest to tame the Devil. She genuinely thought she had found a decent chap in Henry Kent (Michael Kitchen). When he turned out to be a bastard anyway, the shock was doubly unpleasant. It was not a shock to the viewer, of course. Andrew Davies’s screenplay had him explaining his enthusiastically Machiavellian attitude to women to camera, like Richard III or Francis Urquhart in House of Cards. We were just wondering what would happen when he revealed himself to Daisy as Mr Wrong ’Un.

The second interesting factor was that it was based on Elizabeth Jane Howard’s fictionalised version of something that actually happened to her. Real life is often much more peculiar than fiction. The challenge for Michael Kitchen was that Henry Kent, and presumably the man he was based on, was very odd indeed.

Plausible conmen are a dime a dozen, of course, and so are attention-seeking fantasists who make up self-dramatising stories about their pasts. But introducing himself as a gardener, Henry would do hours of back-breaking labour, often in the rain. As Daisy recovered from a broken marriage and a broken leg, he spent weeks pretending to be the soul of kindness and consideration. He told the audience at length how he adored being in love. Yet it turned out he was only after Daisy ’s money, and had a record of pathological violence towards women. Who was he lying to, apart from Daisy? Posterity? Himself?

Michael Kitchen spun a plausible web of easy, insinuating charm, but his character’s true nature remained enigmatic. Presumably the man he is based on did for Elizabeth Jane Howard herself. Most of the time Penelope Wilton looked puzzled, which was entirely appropriate in the circumstances.

The challenge for Andrew Davies, on the other hand, was that middle-aged couples don’t always provide the most aesthetic sex scenes, but he got his nipple-count up with a couple of flashbacks to the seductions of Henry’s youth. Not that there is anything remotely scandalous about such dollops of spicy sauce these days, as X-Rated: The TV They Tried to Ban (Channel 4, Sunday) spent 95 minutes reminding us...