Secret Army – Guilt (26th October 1977)

Carrying on the story from Lost Sheep, Guilt is an episode of two halves. The first is rather low-key (but not without interest) but it’s the second half where the plot really kicks into gear.

Curtis is smarting that the RAF’s latest technological wonder has been splashed all over the papers (thanks to the loose-lipped Peter Romsey) and becomes desperate to find out who betrayed Romsey and Victor. So he heads out into the French countryside, with the untrusting Lifeline close on his heels ….

Albert is the most suspicious about Curtis’ motives. Director Paul Annett heightens the pressure during these early scenes by ensuring that the camera tightly frames each member of Lifeline as they debate what to do. The decision is made to send Monique after Curtis – to observe what he does and liquidate him if he turns out to be a spy.

This gives Angela Richards a little more to do than usual. Up until this point in the series her main plot function has been to complain at regular intervals about the way Albert pays more attention to his wife than he does to her. Don’t worry though, she still manages to do that today.

For a while it looks like Monique has Curtis closely under tabs, even if she appears to be hideously conspicuous (her dark glasses don’t help). Thankfully, Curtis turns out to be a sharp operator and has been aware of her presence all along. In the episode’s first key scene he confronts her in a two-hander that crackles with energy. “I worry about being shot, getting caught, being tortured. So what’s new apart from that?”

Peter Barkworth and Joanna Van Gyseghem don’t really feature until the last twenty minutes or so. That makes sense since the characters of Hugh Neville and his wife Dorothy were well established in the previous episode . In this one there’s merely the question of establishing their guilt or innocence.

After curfew, Curtis calls on them – begging a bed for the night. For some reason, Curtis is affecting a Leeds accent (or so he says) which is a tad distracting, but once the scene really kicks into gear it proves to be less of a problem. This is the point where the episode really picks up momentum as Barkworth and Neame face off (with Van Gyseghem stuck in the middle as a rather baffled outsider).

It doesn’t take much prompting by Curtis for Neville to reveal his hatred of war. “I should have been playing cricket for my school but I was fighting on the Somme instead. Mud, filth, corpses, so many corpses it was hideous. Your country needs you. I saw screaming men trying to hold in their own intestines”.

There then follows a philosophical debate where the honours are about even. But early next morning, Neville’s admission that he told the police about Romsey seals his fate. Curtis, flick knife in hand, advances menacingly although it’s interesting that we don’t see the blow struck (nor, when Dorothy later returns, his body). Instead, Van Gyseghem is required to sell this key moment purely by her reaction.

The episode’s coda (a battered and weary Curtis travels back on the train to Belgium with Monique) is almost (no pun intended) derailed by some very obvious CSO. But the quality of their conversation – Curtis admitting that Neville was the first man he’d killed face to face (dropping bombs doesn’t count) – saves the day.

This is a slow burner of an episode, but once it gets going it carries a real punch. Curtis reveals that he liked Neville, but he had to be executed anyway. That it’s possible to see why Neville acted the way he did (and even to sympathise with him) is what makes Traitor so powerful. Secret Army rarely produced simplistic stories of good & evil/black & white and that’s one reason why the series stands up so well today.

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