Broadcast in 1988, Natural Causes is a rather obscure entry from Eric Chappell’s back catalogue. That’s not terribly surprising as it was given the less than primetime slot of 11.30 pm (although it still managed to pull in an impressive 6.5 million viewers).
It began life as a play in 1985 with Ian Lavender and Michael Robbins. Chappell’s television adaptation boasts an equally impressive cast – George Cole, Benjamin Whitrow, Prunella Scales and Leslie Ash.
Walter Bryce (Whitrow) is keen to help his neurotic wife, Ceilia (Scales), depart this vale of tears, as waiting in the wings to comfort him is his young secretary Angie (Ash).
And that’s where Vincent (Cole) comes in. He works for a company called Exodus which exists to facilitate suicides. But although things initially seen straightforward, a myriad of complications soon ensue …
The theatrical origin of the story Is quite obvious, as the production remains studio-bound throughout with no attempt made to open it up. That’s not a problem for me though as it means the play has to stand or falls on the quality of its performances.
George Cole leads the way as the pernickety Vincent. Sounding not unlike Arthur Daley, Cole gives a highly effective turn, doing most of the comic heavy lifting during the early part of the story.
He initially forms a strong double-act with Whitrow, who’s entertainingly twitchy as the unfaithful husband attempting to persuade himself (and Vincent) that the death of his wife will be a mercy for her. But the first problem occurs when she decides that they should die together. He’s not keen …
Prunella Scales, like Cole, seems to be operating well within her comfort zone but that’s not really a criticism as she does what she does so well. Leslie Ash has the lesser of the four roles but there’s still a faint air of Lady Macbeth about Angie which is appealingly teased out.
The ending doesn’t come as a huge surprise but overall the 78 minutes slipped by very agreeably. Well worth a look.