Legacies is another episode which places Shirley front and centre. It was established in the first series that she has an awkward relationship with her parents and this theme is developed during the early part of the episode. It seems that Mr and Mrs Brent (Lloyd Lamble and Peggy Ann Wood) have given Shirley everything she could have asked for, apart from love. They’re polite enough to their daughter but also emotionally closed-off, which strongly implies that Shirley’s repressed nature is a direct result of her upbringing.
The way that Mr and Mrs Brent display polite interest at the news that Shirley will be involved in the forthcoming celebrations at St Angela’s (to mark twenty five years as a teaching hospital) but firmly decline to attend is very cutting. The thought that this might disappoint their daughter doesn’t seem to have crossed their minds. Mind you, it’s also true that their own relationship seems just as superficial (polite on the surface but lacking any sort of emotional depth).
Intercut with these scenes are a number of gritty location shots following Diana (Mary Maude) as she makes her way back home to her squat. In story terms there’s no particular need to have them in the episode (it would have been just as easy to open with Diana being brought into the hospital) but they do add a little bit of grimy mid seventies colour to the episode.
A self-destructive drug addict, Diana’s a regular at St Angela’s and viewed with weary resignation by the staff. Shirley begins by professing bafflement – since she can’t understand her, she has difficulty in treating her. Sandra is on hand to dish out a dollop of common sense – personal feelings don’t matter, everyone deserves the same duty of care
Shirley’s psychological war of nerves with Diana is the dominant theme of today’s story. It ebbs and flows, but eventually Shirley comes out on top, telling Diana that “we’re both losers, but you don’t even know it”. Diana’s background is revealed to be similar to Shirley’s – well-off parents who gave her every material benefit but nothing else. That they’re two sides of the same coin is then explicitly stated, which is a slight shame (given how oblique some of Diana’s monologues are, it probably would have been better not to have spelled out this obvious point).
Legacies is a very verbose script. We do have an explanation as to why Diana is such an articulate junkie, but there are times when she does feel like an artificial character. Although if one were being generous it may be that this was intentional. Shirley does pick up on the fact that Diana is an arch-manipulator – always playing a role, she finds it easy to push people’s buttons in order to create the effect she requires.
The fact she causes Shirley to lose her temper pleases her – but not in a malicious way. Rather, Shirley has now passed the test and can be treated as almost an equal (the way they smile at each other at the end of the episode feels encouraging but also faintly sinister).
If Shirley is the angel who has received by far the most character development during the series to date, then some of the others – such as Maureen – are rather lagging behind. Maureen doesn’t feature very heavily today, but her scenes (mainly pouring scorn at the parasitic way Diana leeches from the state system) don’t quite ring true. Nothing we’ve seen of her previously would suggest that she would react in this way, which leaves me with the impression that her character has been refashioned just to service this particular plot point. If so, then it might have been better to create a one-off nurse for the role.
Shirley’s early interactions with Diana are quite awkward and unpleasant (although you are left with the strong sense – based on previous stories – that this will change). Her relationship with the elderly Miss Buckle (Jean Kent) is quite different, although the attentive viewer would probably have been able to quickly work out the sting in this tale.
Miss Buckle is polite and thankful for all the attention she’s receiving, but she seems just a little too nice, meaning that the revelation she has munchausen syndrome doesn’t come as a total shock. In her way she’s just as much of a drain on the resources of the hospital as Diana is, but the script has much more sympathy with her than it does with Diana. It’s not a particularly large role, but Kent (a British film regular during the 1940’s and 1950’s) is spot on. The way Miss Buckle reacts when she realises that Shirley knows her secret is beautifully played.
With some familiar faces – Don Henderson as a drunk, Phil Davis as Diana’s friend, Christopher Coll as a doctor – popping up, there’s plenty of incidental interest in this one, although the Shirley/Diana relationship dominates.