Henry is dead – he was shot three times and a sign saying “delator” was hung around his neck. With one of Peter’s sons now dead there’s a sense that real life is me isoap opera An Englishman’s Castle. One example of this is when Peter’s wife is told of her son’s death. She tells her husband that she won’t cry – instead she’ll behave as bravely as Peter’s fictional family.
Peter finds himself the prime suspect for Henry’s murder and is taken away by the special police for questioning. The Inspector (Philip Bond) is initially affable, telling Peter it’s nothing more than an informal chat, but the mood darkens very quickly. Kenneth More and Philip Bond share an excellent two-handed scene – like the rest of the serial it’s incredibly powerful, but very understated. The Inspector occupies a room that’s virtually bare, and there’s never even the threat of violence, but he’s still able to inexorably pressurise Peter. So Peter is forced to reveal that Henry told Harmer he was an informer – which gets Peter off the hook but spells trouble for Harmer.
As events get darker and darker, Kenneth More remains the solid centre of the story. Now promoted to programme controller, Peter has the ultimate responsibility for initiating the revolution – a code-word inserted into the next episode of his soap opera will be the call to arms.
Philip Mackie’s three scripts are taut, with little or no padding. It’s easy to imagine that the serial could have been developed into a series, as in one way we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of this world. It would have been fascinating to see Peter’s soap-opera, which at times offers a meta-textual commentary on real-world events, expanded over more episodes.
Anybody looking for big-budget action scenes will be disappointed. The revolution does begin in the last few minutes of this episode, but it happens off-screen (via sound effects). The fates of some characters, including Peter, are clear at the end – but with others it’s left to the viewer’s own imagination to decide what may have happened to them. It’s also notable that certain people’s motivations are very much open to interpretation – Harmer is a prime example. In the first two episodes he was portrayed firmly as a man in sympathy with the German establishment, but in the final episode we’re asked to consider him in a different light. Nothing is ever proven either way, so we’re not spoon-fed “facts” – the viewer is invited to weigh up the evidence and decide.
It’s a downbeat ending, but there’s a possible glimmer of hope. We’re left not knowing whether the revolution will succeed or fail, but whatever happens we’ve seen characters who have been personally redeemed, Peter amongst them.
At times this feels like a stage play (not a criticism, by the way). People die off-screen, for example, and other events are described but not seen. Some may find this frustrating, but this style of storytelling ensures that the focus remains inexorably on the characters, which is a major plus point when the cast is so strong.
This is first-rate drama and comes highly recommended. Heading a very strong cast are Kenneth More, Isla Blair and Anthony Bate, all of whom dominate the screen. Simply Media should be applauded for continuing to dip into the BBC archives and for anybody who enjoys classic British television, An Englishman’s Castle should be on your to-watch list.