Play For Today – The Imitation Game. Simply Media DVD Review


The year is 1940. Having previously worked at a wireless listening station dealing with coded Enigma transmissions, Cathy Raine (Harriet Walter) arrives at Bletchley Park – the home of the Enigma machine and the nerve centre of Britain’s code-breaking efforts.

Disappointingly, she finds her duties are very mundane – making coffee and cleaning – but there are compensations. She becomes friendly with a Cambridge mathematics don called John Turner (Nicholas Le Prevost) and the pair go to bed.  But their love-making ends badly with Turner blaming Cathy for the debacle.  Shortly afterwards, Cathy is discovered in Turner’s room reading top secret documents and this act leads to her imprisonment ….

Originally broadcast on the 24th of April 1980, there’s a very modern feel to this Play for Today. Cathy is determined to break free from her stifling home life and domineering father (Bernard Gallagher).  Most girls have “done their bit” by going to work in the local munitions factory, but Cathy has set her sights a little higher and so joins the ATS.

During her initial training she befriends Mary (Brenda Blethyn – making her television debut) and the pair become close.  That they and the other ATS girls are encroaching into male territory is demonstrated after the pair dare to pop down to the local pub by themselves for a drink. This invasion of a male dominated province doesn’t go down well and the landlord’s attempt to move them on ends in an ugly scuffle.  Following a severe reprimand she’s moved to Bletchley Park – an ignominious reason for her transfer.


If Cathy was – apart from Mary – isolated before, then this feeling only increases when she takes up her duties at Bletchley.  So it’s possibly not surprising that she responds so eagerly to the handful of kind words flung her way by Turner.  Based loosely on Alan Turning, Turner is unable to perform when the pair go to bed and he quickly decides that she’s the guilty party.  “You wanted to humiliate me and you’ve succeeded. You hated your own job and you’re jealous of me for mine”.

Ian McEwan had originally wanted to write a play about Alan Turing and the Enigma machine but found information on both was rather scarce, so instead he turned his attention to life at Bletchley Park. Despite the fact that women formed around 75% of the workforce, he learnt that they were very underrepresented in key positions (although research undertaken during the last few decades has somewhat revised this viewpoint).

Cathy’s downfall begins at the listening station after she becomes frustrated that she doesn’t understand why the coded messages she’s working on are important. “All of the women know nothing, some of the men know everything”.  Although it’s easy in one way to understand her point of view, does she “need to know” in order to do her job? She doesn’t, but it’s her desire to see the bigger picture which eventually leads her to Turner’s Enigma notes.

The Imitation Game was only Harriet Walter’s second television credit, but she belied this lack of screen experience with a beautifully judged performance (Cathy’s closing monologue is a particular highlight).  A fair few familiar faces make appearances, some more fleeting than others. Patricia Routledge is perfectly cast as a hearty ATS officer whilst Geoffrey Chater, always at home when tackling authority figures, plays to type as the interrogating Colonel.

Bernard Gallagher is terrifically unbending as a martinet father who clearly wouldn’t be averse to a German invasion (at one point Cathy ironically suggests he should put on his black shirt). Simon Chandler is also very good value as the supremely irritating Tony, Cathy’s long-term boyfriend, who’s more than a little put out to learn that she’s decided to join the army (regarding the ATS as something of a den of iniquity).

Running for 92 minutes, The Imitation Game was one of a number of interesting Play For Today‘s directed by Richard Eyre during the late seventies and early eighties (hopefully over time they might all make it onto DVD). Thanks to Harriet Walter’s vulnerable but steely performance as Cathy (along with the strong supporting cast) this is an absorbing play.

The Imitation Game is released by Simply Media on the 1st of October 2018, RRP £9.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here.

The Price – Simply Media DVD Review

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Geoffrey Carr (Peter Barkworth) might be a successful businessman (he’s a key player in the burgeoning computer industry) but his private life is far less straightforward. Recently married to Frances (Harriet Walter), their relationship is best described as testy. Possibly due to the fact that she’s much younger than he is, they struggle to find any common ground whilst Claire (Frances’ headstrong teenage daughter from a previous marriage) is a further complication.

Geoffrey dutifully continues trying to please Frances though – even going to the expense of buying a crumbling Georgian house in the place where she grew up – County Wicklow, Ireland.

But the mid eighties is a period when the Troubles were at their height and as a wealthy Briton he proves to be an irresistible target. Frank Crossan (Derek Thompson), an IRA killer on the run, teams up with an idealistic teacher called Kate (Aingeal Grehan). Their plan is simple – kidnap Frances and Clare and demand a hefty ransom from Geoffrey. The resolution is far more complex though ….

Broadcast in six episodes during early 1985. The Price boasts strong performances from all the major players. It should go without saying that Peter Barkworth (1926 – 2006) is exemplary as Geoffrey, a man caught between the twin pincers of police interference and the machinations of high finance. Barkworth rarely, if ever, gave a bad performance and Geoffrey is a typically layered creation.

Peter Barkworth

It would be easy enough for Geoffrey – a self-centered but essentially decent man – to be portrayed in a fairly one-note manner, but Barkworth’s nuanced performance essays something much more subtle and ultimately much more satisfying.

Harriet Walter (b. 1950) continues to enjoy a very successful career (The Crown and Star Wars: The Force Awakens are amongst her recent credits). Frances is introduced as something of a contradictory person – she admits that she married Geoffrey for his money, but gets upset whenever he attempts to do any work. But once she’s kidnapped her character goes through a radical transformation.

An interesting piece of casting, in retrospect, saw the fourteen year old Susanna Reid playing Clare. This was her only television acting role (during the last fifteen years or so she’s become a very recognisable British television face – first as a newsreader and then as a breakfast television host).

Susannah Reid

Derek Thompson may have seemingly been playing the level-headed Charlie Fairhead in Casualty since the dawn of recorded time, but prior to checking into Holby City back in 1986 he essayed a variety of roles on both sides of the law. He was a regular on The Gentle Touch between 1980 and 1982 (as DS Jimmy Fenton) but during the late seventies and the early to mid eighties he could often be found playing baddies (The Long Good Friday, The Wild Geese 2 and – of course – The Price). Since Thompson was born in Belfast, the role of Frank Crossan gave him a rare opportunity to drop back into the Irish idiom.

Familiar faces such as Simon Jones, Hugh Fraser and Adrian Dunbar are welcome additions to the cast.

The opening scenes of the first episode intercuts between Frances (trying on expensive jewellery in a swanky shop) and Frank (holed up in a house on a graffiti-ridden estate, picking off British soldiers with a high powered rifle). That they live in two totally different worlds is immediately obvious but the intercutting hammers the point home.

Early on we get a sense of the tensions that exist between Geoffrey and Frances. “I can’t stand you” she screams. Barkworth’s ability to express a world of hurt with a single expression is put to good use here.

The closing scene of the first episode explodes in a burst of violence as Frances and Clare are snatched from their car by a posse of masked raiders. Kate may have been initially presented as someone keen to pursue the struggle for Irish independence peacefully, but here she’s keen for Frank to shoot a fleeing child who witnessed the kidnapping. As Frank, a hardened IRA man, couldn’t bring himself to fire, it’s a character moment that should be filed away for later.

Derek Thompson & Aingeal Grehan

Old computer hands will probably appreciate the opening few moments of episode two. Not only are there some chunky PCs on display but there’s also the slow, but steady, report of a dot matrix printer. It’s printing out news of Frances and Clare’s kidnap (this is a neat way of recapping the events of episode one without having to spell it out verbally).

As the pressure begins to mount, Barkworth excels as Geoffrey – a fundamentally decent man – is pushed and pulled in numerous directions. The police advise him not to pay the ransom – at least not at first – but how can he refuse when lives are at stake? Lansbury (Simon Jones) and Simon (David Lyon) are both on hand to help and advise (Lansbury works for Geoffrey’s company, Simon is an insurance man and a kidnap specialist).

But even if he wants to pay the ransom, how can he afford it? He’s simply not as wealthy as the kidnappers believe him to be and if he attempts to unfreeze his assets or sell any shares then he faces the possibility of losing control of his company. Does he love his wife and step-daughter that much? As the title states, is he prepared to pay the price?

The grim surroundings that Frances and Claire find themselves in (plus Claire’s asthma attacks) makes their incarceration even more of a nightmare. They at least have each other for company, but things are far from easy. Walter and Reid shine during these scenes, especially since the relationship between mother and daughter is very fluid – one minute loving, the next combative.

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Harriet Walter and Susannah Reid

As the serial wears on and Frances becomes grimier and more desperate, so the tension begins to ramp up even more. Her transformation – from spoilt society queen to a hardened fighter – is a highlight of the latter part of the story, thanks to Harriet Walter’s performance (in the last few episodes things get especially dark for Frances).

The twisted relationship which can often exist between captor and captive is well drawn out too. Frank despises Frances and all she stands for … and yet. On her side, she’s content to play along with his mood swings – she’ll do anything if it means she can guarantee freedom for herself and Clare. Meanwhile, Geoffrey and his team are making their way to the rendezvous point with the money whilst the police attempt to follow ….

Needless to say, things don’t go to plan and the concluding episode develops into a tense stand-off between the kidnappers and the police. The violence, when it comes, is short and ugly. This occurs about fifteen minutes from the end, which then leaves ample time for those left alive to reflect on events.

An all-film production, picture-wise The Price is in a pretty good condition.  The unrestored prints obviously show dirt and damage but it’s comparable to other releases of a similar vintage.

Despite being six episodes long, The Price never feels drawn out. Peter Barkworth, Harriet Walter and Derek Thompson all excel whilst the supporting cast provides solid support. A taut character-based drama, The Price grips throughout and comes highly recommended.

The Price is released on the 15th of April 2018, RRP £24.99 by Simply Media.  It can be ordered directly from Simply here.

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Derek Thompson & Aingeal Grehan