Monday 26 October 2009

The Charmer

The sole benefit of an enforced break has been the chance to watch a few DVDs I’ve never found time for in the endless rush of everyday life. And I really did admire The Charmer, an ITV series that I missed when it was first shown 22 years ago.

The Charmer is divided into six episodes, 50 minutes each, and features Nigel Havers cast successfully against type as Ralph Ernest Gorse. Havers is a light and likeable actor, but although Gorse has a good deal of superficial charm, in truth he is a cold and calculating sociopath, a man with no money but a burning desire to enjoy pleasures beyond his means.. He allows nothing and nobody to stand in his way.

At the start, Gorse sets his sight on an affluent widow with a fondness for drink, brilliantly played by Rosemary Leach. She is flattered by his attentions, provoking intense jealousy on the part of an unappealing estate agent called Donald Stimpson, equally well played by Bernard Hepton. Stimpson is infuriated when the woman who has fobbed him off for years sleeps with the glamorous younger man, and his determination to exact revenge on Gorse is a driving force of the story-line.

As the plot becomes increasingly complex and dark, Gorse seduces and marries the daughter of a rather thuggish Brighton car dealer played by George Baker – yes, Inspector Wexford himself! Gorse kills the girl, accidentally, while burning down their house in an insurance scam, but soon gets involved with another widow, played by Judy Parfitt. But Stimpson is on his trail…

The screenplay is by Allan Prior, who was involved with Troy Kennedy Martin (who died recently) in starting that seminal cop show Z Cars. (Trivia buffs might like to know his daughter is Maddy Prior, the singer from Steeleye Span.) The source material for the scripts was extracted from the books that Patrick Hamilton wrote about Gorse. The incidents in the books are somewhat different, but The Charmer is a real success, which can still be viewed with a great deal of pleasure a generation after it was made. Hamilton was a fascinating writer, by the way, and I’ll say more about him in future posts.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Martin, for sharing this series. I'd heard of it, but haven't ever had the chance to watch it. It sounds worth the rent. Glad you're on the mend.

seana graham said...

I saw The Charmer when it came out over here in America many years ago, and thought it was excellent. I went on at some point to read The West Pier, which having just looked up, I'm now realizing was another Gorse novel, as it's been collected in a trilogy called (aptly) The Gorse Trilogy. It was every bit as good as "The Charmer".

I suppose what they remind me of most are Patricia Highsmith's creation of Ripley.

Minnie said...

Thank you,Martin, for highlighting this now-forgotten series - what a wonderful cast!
And I really look forward to reading your future post on Patrick Hamilton. He's always being sudenly re-discovered then just as abruptly dumped, it seems to me. So more power to you for covering him.

Martin Edwards said...

Margot, it's definitely good value.
Seana, you are spot on, and I am about to post on Ripley and Gorse.
Minnie - as you say, there are periodic waves of enthusiasm for PH. Unlike his neglected brother Bruce, now almost totally forgotten.

seana graham said...

I will look forward to that Gorse/Ripley post, Martin.