Friday, 30 August 2013

Friday 30 August 1963

This week we see once again how fraught with danger the life of a 12th century monarch was as, on his way to a jousting tournament, Richard is forced to give up his trusty steed to a knife wielding peasant (Derrick Sherwin, whose later career behind the camera would include a stint producing Doctor Who) who threatens the life of the king's companion Blondel de Nesle (of the instant coffee making family).  The crown of England happens to be in the saddlebag too, but the ever informal Richard's more worried about his horse.

The tournament's hosted by Baron Fitzgeorge, whose son Sir Thomas fought alongside Richard in the Crusades.  He was an exceptional fighter, but Richard never saw his face beneath his visor.  Blondel did, and is shocked to realise it was that of the peasant who attacked them.  When they run into the captain of the Baron's guard, he's strangely evasive about whether or not Sir Thomas is at home.

When Richard and Blondel reach the Baron's castle (correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the exterior's a shot of Bodiam Castle, near Rye - which dates from the 14th century), the Baron (The Navy Lark's Richard Caldicot) and his wife Lady Melinda (Ellen Pollock) seem equally shifty.  They claim it's not possible for the king to see his former comrade as Sir Thomas has a terrible infectious disease.  Incidentally, we learn at this point that Queen Berengaria is busily preparing for her husband's second coronation, feeling the first one lacked "a woman's touch".

Baron Fitzgeorge explains that he has a high rate of absconding serfs due to a family tradition that if they manage to escape and avoid the Baron's men for a year and a day they're granted their freedom.  The sour-faced Lady Melinda, no respecter of tradition, wants her husband to put a stop to this foolishness and harshly punish anyone who tries to escape: "In my father's house we knew the value of thrashing!" she happily recalls.  Her keen insistence that the serf who stole Richard's horse be executed just adds to the mystery.

Light begins to be shed when Richard and Blondel happen upon servant girl Rose (Eira Heath, who was here a few weeks back doing her music hall turn in Sergeant Cork).  She's the fiancĂ©e of Alan, the absconded serf (he's the second character called Alan in as many weeks - strange to think of it as a Medieval name), and once Blondel's done with attempting to romance her, explains that, threatened with death, Alan was forced to go crusading in the real Sir Thomas's place.

Said real Sir Thomas is hiding out in an outhouse to avoid Richard.  He's not ill, it was sheer cowardice that prevented him going to war.  His mother's conniving with him, but poor Baron Fitzgeorge is completely oblivious to what's happened.

Ian Bannen lookalike Michael O'Brien, who plays Sir Thomas, makes up a superbly villainous team alongside Ellen Pollock as his dastardly mother.  Pollock's forbidding countenance would later be put to superb use in Anthony Balch's magnificently odd Horror Hospital (1973).

Alan, who's been recaptured, is brought to Sir Thomas for some great villainous face-slapping.  Richard, in an attempt to get to the bottom of what's going on, accuses Baron Fitzgeorge of setting up the theft of the crown, and demands satisfaction from Sir Thomas.  In a duel, that is.  Poor Alan is once again forced to masquerade as the cowardly aristocrat.

The jousting duel goes ahead (Richard looking especially nice in his armour), with Sir Thomas' minions cutting the reins of the horse in order to make it look like Thomas has bested him.

The pair grapple for a bit off their horses (it looks very intimate), before Alan submits to the king.  Then they walk off together (which looks even more intimate - in fact it looks like a Monty Python sketch about gay knights).

Alan having come clean, Richard reveals the truth to the shocked Baron Fitzgeorge about his wife and son.  Blondel produces the real Sir Thomas, whom he's captured in a chest, and the disgraced nobleman is disinherited and exiled by his father.

The Baron's clearly eyeing up Alan as a replacement son, and considering the revelations he's just faced about his family, it's rather callous of Richard to announce he plans to whisk the young man off to be a champion of his court in London.  A Year and a Day's one of the best Richard the Lionhearts so far, with a genuinely intriguing mystery and a pair of especially hissable baddies. It's just a shame we never find out what Lady Melinda's eventual fate is.

Over on the other side, it's time to find out what comic misunderstandings the Starlings have managed to get themselves into this week.

Kate's shocked to learn that George has stacked up some suitcases in order to provide extra bedspace, her night movements meaning it's rather limited.

Kate, who unfortunately comes across as a bit shrill and unreasonable this week, isn't best pleased to be informed of her sleeping habits.  She takes George's desire for a larger bed as a sign that he doesn't want to be close to her (he reminds her that the reason they didn't get a bigger one was that she was worried what the salesman would think about them wanting a lot of space between them).

Browsing for a bigger bed, George feels deeply uncomfortable on hearing an obnoxious young engaged couple insisting on the most intimate bed possible.

As usual, both George and Kate are convinced there's something wrong with their relationship.  And this week both make a similarly unwise choice of confidant.  Kate goes to visit neighbour Norah, on the pretext of borrowing some soap powder, but really because she wants to sneak a look at Norha's book on Marital Psychology.  We're properly introduced to Christine Finn's Nora here (she was glimpsed briefly in the first episode of the series, in an intoxicated state).  She's wonderfully sardonic, with a Joan Greenwood-like feline quality.  Expounding on the consumer offers with which companies were trying to sell their products throughout the 60s: "I never feel like I'm paying for soap powder these days.  There's always threepence off or three plastic daffodils strapped to the packet."

Nora's been married long enough to have lost the illusions that Kate still clings to.  When Kate says she thinks she and George have had three quarrels a week Nora sighs: "Enjoy them while you can, dear.  They won't last."  Initially dismissive of Kate and George's problems, she changes her tune when Kate tells her that George has "gone off the bed", and starts to share Kate's fear that the relationship's doomed.

George, meanwhile, tells all to his rather too hearty father (Geoffrey Sumner) over lunch, and comes away convinced that Kate's broody: bad news as they'd agreed not to try for a baby for at least two years.

On returning home, George fears the worst on finding the Marital Psychology book and noticing there's a whole chapter on expectant fathers.

Kate enters, having bought a bizarre assortment of things in the hope of winning George's love back, including a jar of kangaroo tail soup.

And we end with the requisite scene of misunderstandings being cleared up and the pair reconciling ("I had a good look at all the babies I saw," George informs a baffled Kate, "And some of them seemed quite reasonable").  Marriage Lines is still very amiable, but three weeks in it's already starting to feel just the tiniest bit stale.

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