En route to Paris via the escape route, Flight Lieutenant Peter Romsey (Christopher Guard), is separated from his colleagues. Disembarking from his train in a rural French village, he desperately searches for help – eventually stumbling across an English writer, Hugh Neville (Peter Barkworth), who appears to offer sanctuary ….
Lost Sheep opens in a fairly striking way. During this first scene where Curtis interrogates Romsey, the airman remains seated and passive whilst Curtis strides up and down – almost bumping into the camera. So while Curtis is foregrounded and creating an oppressive figure, Romsey and Lisa (silently smoking) are placed in the background.
Out of the regulars, Curtis probably gets the most to do. Later – when Romsey’s identity has been verified – the pair have a convivial chat, but even this early on it’s clear that Romsey is something of a liability (the navigator of an advanced Mosquito, he carries in his head information that the Germans would dearly love – and he seems distressingly happy to chat about such things at the drop of a hat).
N.J. Crisp’s script (the first of nine Secret Army efforts) is really centered around the guest performers. Guard is perfectly cast as the seemingly naïve and far too trusting Romsey. Although given that he’s a veteran of many hazardous flight missions it may be that, as opined by Curtis, he’s simply burnt out and is no longer thinking clearly.
After all, instead of trying to make his way to Paris, he stumbles around asking perfect strangers for help – seemingly trusting that they won’t turn him in. His first approach (a fisherman) does fetch the local police, but luckily Romsey had made a dash for it by then.
So he ends up at a palatal house owned by Hugh Neville and his wife Dorothy (Joanna Van Gyseghem). Dorothy is instantly welcoming, but Neville himself, whilst convivial, keeps his own counsel. Peter Barkworth was no stranger to WW2, having spent the best part of six months starring in Manhunt (a sometimes engrossing, sometimes infuriating LWT drama) and his casting is a major plus point. Barkworth never gave a bad performance and there’s plenty to enjoy and mull over in this one.
Neville is an English writer firmly ensconced in France. He doesn’t share Romsey’s patriotic leanings (“I was on the Somme in the Great War. Saw a generation slaughtered for nothing”). And later, Neville snorts at the idea that France will one day be liberated – for him, life has gone on under German occupation pretty much as it always has. Thanks to the area’s rich farmland, there’s no such thing as rationing and he claims never to have seen a German soldier in the area.
This statement is undercut by the very next scene, in which Dorothy – out cycling – spies numerous German troops beginning an intensive search for Romsey. At first it’s possible to believe that Neville is a fantasist who up to this point has simply ignored anything unpleasant, but later it does seem that the Germans have only just moved into the area, so his comments – self-centered though they may be – do seem to be accurate.
Dorothy isn’t as well-drawn a character, but there’s still enough there for Van Gyseghem to work with. Given that she and her husband exist in an atmosphere of chilly politeness, it’s possibly not too difficult to work out why Dorothy greets the arrival of a handsome young stranger so warmly (although this is never spelled out explicitly).
Plot-wise, Lost Sheep then stumbles a little. Given that Neville is the only Englishman in the area, his house would be the obvious place to find Romsey – and yet the Germans never search there. Instead, Neville’s friend – Inspector Pierre Dubois (Bruce Montague) – does so but makes sure to give him fair warning. Barkworth and Montague share several nice scenes, ones in which Dubois and Neville carry out two very different conversations at the same time (one implicit, one explicit).
Credibility is also stretched by the fact that not only do Lifeline have a man – Victor (Ivor Roberts) – in the area, but he also manages to locate Romsey with embarrassing ease. If he could do so, why couldn’t Brandt and his merry men?
After an episode of tension, there seems to be a happy ending – Victor leads Romsey away to safety. But there’s an ambush and Victor is shot dead whilst Rosmey is delivered into the welcoming hands of Brandt. And, as feared, it seems likely that the charming Brandt will be able to get the ingenious Romsey to talk ….
Had this been a single episode story, then this ending would have been nicely ambiguous. It’s hinted that Neville may have betrayed Romsey to save his own skin, but it’s equally likely that Dubious – convinced that Neville was sheltering Romsey but possessing no proof – could have decided to stake the place out.
As it is, Crisp will develop and conclude the story in next week’s episode – Guilt.