Saturday, 2 August 2014

Sunday 2 August 1964

Last week we left the bewildered Edmond Dantés as he was being roughly escorted to the grimmest dungeon of the Chateau d'If...

In the hands of director Peter Hammond, the dreaded prison is a deeply nightmarish place, its shadows concealing gibbering wrecks of men (one looks like he's left over from last night's Doctor Who, and an elderly prisoner whose gurgling face suddenly and terrifying fills the screen looks more than a bit like Charles Lloyd-Pack).

Once Edmond's locked up in his new quarters, we see his hands emerging from the darkness within as he calls hopelessly for his beloved Mercedes.  It's harrowing stuff.

The scene changes to the palace of Louis XVIII, where the slippery Villefort reveals all to the king (camp, corpulent, sweaty Peter Stephens) about the plot against him that he intercepted with Edmond's capture.  Well, almost all.  In Villefort's version the letter Edmond was carrying to the lawyer's father becomes a verbal message intended for someone rather less embarrassing for him.  However, despite the king's initial scepticism, the news that Napoleon is already in France and putting his plans to seize power into action proves to be dead right.

We return now to Edmond's cell where, from his discussion with the prison governor (Charles Carson) and the inspector general of prisons (the inimitably officious Vernon Dobtcheff) we learn that five and a half years have passed.  During the state of emergency that was called during Napoleon's attempt to regain the throne it was permitted for men to be slung into prison without trial, and so Edmond has remained in the chateau, almost forgotten.  Pleading his innocence to the inspector general, he begs to have his case re-opened (Alan Badel gives us a particularly wrenching moment when Edmond hears of Villefort's departure from Marseilles shortly after his imprisonment, and assumes it must simply have been a clerical error that kept him in jail - at this point Edmond's still too naive to believe anyone could have deliberately betrayed him).

Essentially kind-hearted, the inspector agrees to look into Edmond's case.  It surely can't be coincidental that, striking a pose of jubilation, the now bearded and long haired prisoner looks unmistakably like Christ on the cross.

Getting out the records, the inspector discovers a note from Villefort declaring that Edmond must be kept in perpetual solitary confinement.  That's more than good enough for him.

Three more years pass.  His hopes now definitively broken, his faith in human nature gone forever, the embittered Edmond now looks more satanic than Christlike.

But a strange scratching sound heralds the arrival of something, or rather someone, to rekindle Edmond's desire to live.  Realising that someone is tunnelling toward his cell, Edmond starts a tunnel of his own and meets his visitor (John Wentworth) in the middle.  Overjoyed to see another human being in the same predicament, they're initially unable to speak, instead expressing their feelings in a desperate embrace.

This aged prisoner is the Abbé Faria.  He's been attempting to escape for months, but even though he's just made it into another cell, he's glad to have found a friend.  Edmond can't help but admire his tool for doing this: a chisel made from the furniture the Abbé's allowed as an elderly prisoner of a religious calling.

The Abbé relates how he was imprisoned as a dangerous dissident 12 years before due to his plans for a united Italy.  He can at least take some comfort in the fact that he managed to unite the rulers of the country's quarrelling principalities all united against him.  Alan Badel gives our heartstrings a good yank once more as Edmond realises that, after all the years of wanting someone to listen to his story, now there is someone he just can't tell it.

As Edmond accompanies the Abbé back through the tunnel to his cell ("Would you like to see where I live?" chirps the old man, like someone who's just come to greet a new neighbour), the pair make a pact that they will escape together.

We fade out on the image of Edmond's face, laughing for the first time in years.

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