Falling

A Dangerous Liaison - The Telegraph; March 7, 2005; James Walton

ITV 1 isn't generally thought of as the home of classy one-off drama. In fact, it serves up more than its fair share - including last night's Falling, adapted by Andrew Davies from Elizabeth Jane Howard's apparently autobiographical novel, starring Penelope Wilton and Michael Kitchen.

Wilton played Daisy Redfearn, a successful London-based writer in her sixties, who despite her impeccably regal bearing was prone to both accidents and mistakes. Thus, having been knocked down by a motorbike, she went to recuperate in her cottage in Yorkshire, where she employed Henry Kent (Kitchen) as her gardener.

We already knew Henry was a bad lot - not least because, like a late middle-aged version of Alfie, he kept telling us so. Daisy, however, began to rely on him more and more, especially after she fell down in the garden (thereby adding concussion to a broken foot) and Henry nursed her back to health.

Her London friends - somewhat cartoonish figures of metropolitan snootiness - tried to warn her that he might be after her money. Nonetheless, by the time Daisy could walk again, Henry had won her heart with his ardent declarations of love and lurid tales of a tragic romantic past. Only when she demurred at his proposal of marriage did Henry reveal his true colours; by smashing her across the face and shouting about "upper-class bitches". Daisy then did some research, and discovered that Henry had form.

In its quiet, almost matter-of-fact way, Falling did raise some big questions. When it comes to love, do we ever learn? Or, more interestingly, can we ever afford to? Daisy had been in two terrible marriages. Yet, if she allowed this to make her view all men with suspicion, she'd be alone forever. The Czech novelist Milan Kundera once wrote, rather grandly, that a man's erotic life is not a journey, merely a theme with variations. Well judging from yesterday's drama, so is a woman's.

But, while the ideas in Falling worked well, it was less successful as a character study. The main problem, I think, was a most unexpected one: Michael Kitchen's performance. Kitchen was as good as ever when Henry was being horrible. Unfortunately, he just wasn't charming or plausible enough when Henry was being nice. This duly meant that we could never understand why Daisy fell for him so quickly and heavily. Worse, it made her appear ultimately a bit of a dope - which I don't think was the idea.

I appreciate that Davies's central theme was the mysteriousness of love. In this case, though, the mysteriousness seemed to owe less to the unfathomable nature of the human heart - and more to the fact that there was something lacking in the drama.