Recently I’ve attempted to put a little more order into my archive television viewing by selecting ten programmes and watching an episode from them once a week, between Monday and Friday.
Currently they are –
Monday – Secret Army S2 and The Caesars
Tuesday – Special Branch S1 and The Mind of Mr J.G. Reeder
Wednesday – The Main Chance S1 and Undermind
Thursday – Upstairs Downstairs S1 and The Brothers S1
Friday – Public Eye S4 and The Biederbecke Affair
Every so often I’ll record a few brief impressions of the episodes I’ve recently watched, and possibly in the future I might want to revisit one or more of these series and examine them in more depth. So to begin ….
Secret Army – Not According To Plan (25th October 1978)
We’re five episodes into the second series, which means that the reformatting of the series (moving Lifeline’s base of operations from a dingy café to a rather plush restaurant where Albert can conveniently overhear Nazi bigwigs chatting about important matters) is now complete.
It’s rather jarring that Natalie seems to have obtained a boyfriend, Francois (Nigel Williams), out of thin air. Surely this could have been worked into the continuing plotline a little less clumsily?
Performances are key to this episode. Jonathan Newth (one of those actors who turns up in virtually every drama series of this era) is typically solid as Jean Barsacq, a blind aristocrat who is also a member of the escape line. This might seem a little unlikely, but – as highlighted by a scene with Kessler – it’s also convenient, as he’s obviously unable to identify a suspect for the Sturmbannführer.
Valentine Dyall receives a rare character scene (Dr Keldermans is usually called upon to do nothing more than advance the plot) whilst Michael Byrne gives all he’s got (and then just a little bit more) as the hot under the collar Communist Paul Vercors.
I’ve never quite been convinced by the way that Vercors so readily decides to betray Lifeline. In exchange, Kessler agrees not to execute twenty Communist prisoners, held after a train – coincidentally carrying Natalie and Francois – is blown up. Since the Communists are supposed to have been carrying out a lengthy reign of terror, why hasn’t Vercors crumbled under this sort of threat before?
Emma Williams catches the eye as the doomed Danielle, sacrificed – in part – to save Kessler’s reputation. It’s fascinating to see Kessler squirming under the intimidating gaze of Oberst Bruch (Leon Eagles). Bruch expresses amazement that Kessler hasn’t been able to smash Lifeline, and suggests he moves to a new position (on the Eastern front maybe).
Capturing Barsacq and shooting Danielle therefore allows Kessler to claim that he’s smashed a key part of the escape route, even if we – and Brandt – know that he’s lying. By this point in the series, Clifford Rose has really become SA‘s main performer – certainly Kessler looks to be the character with the most potential for future development.
The Caesars – Tiberius (6th October 1968)
Whilst The Caesars will always have to live in the imposing shadow of I, Claudius (1976), Philip Mackie’s six-part serial has many strengths of its own. Chief amongst these is André Morell’s wonderfully weary performance as Tiberius. It’s a world away, both in terms of writing and performance, from George Baker’s later turn. This Tiberius is no deviant – instead he’s an icy-cold administrator, thrust unwillingly into the role of emperor.
Today’s episode (the third) chronicles the downfall of Germanicus (Eric Flynn). It plays out pretty closely to the later I, Claudius episode, with John Phillips offering a similar performance (as Piso) to that of Stratford Johns.
One notable aspect of this serial is how downplayed Livia has been – to date, she’s only had a handful of scenes although today Sonia Dresdel is allowed to bare her teeth (previously, you might be forgiven for thinking that Livia was little more than a nice old lady).
There’s plenty of strength in depth amongst the rest of the cast – Freddie Jones, as Claudius, might not be the central character but he still has a few notable moments. Caroline Blakiston glowers wonderfully as Agripinna, the widow of the unfortunate Germanicus whilst John Woodvine steps up to deliver a few lines in his trademark imposing fashion.