Saturday, 30 August 2014

Sunday 30 August 1964

With the Count's plans for revenge slowly coming together, this is the most incident-packed instalment yet.  We begin with the Count taking breakfast with Albert De Morcerf and his friends (he's especially glad to meet Maximilian Morrel, whose ears prick up when he hears that, like his father's mysterious benefactor, the Count's bankers are Thomson and French).  We learn that the Count's acquired a residence in Paris: a modest, unpretentious palace on the Champs d'Elysees which Louis XV bought for Madame de Pompadour.

As the Count departs, he encounters General de Morcerf, now grey and distinguished-looking, and retired from the army to enter the world of politics.

He also meets the general's wife, who, unlike anybody else, appears to recognise him as her lost love Edmond Dantés.  But, clearly unable to believe her eyes, she says nothing.

The Count's next visit is to another of the men who caused him to be imprisoned, the millionaire banker now known as Baron Danglars.  When we catch up with the baron he's laughing with a pair of clients (Robert Young and Michael Oxley) about Thomson and French's absurd request that extend unlimited credit to this strange Count that nobody's heard of.  Philip Madoc's transformation into the older Fernand seems to have been achieved with little more than a wig and moustache, but Morris Perry looks positively decrepit as the older Danglars.  Although he's spent most of the intervening years wasting away in prison, the ravages of time seem to have been far kinder to Edmond than anyone else (except Mercedes, who looks exactly the same).

The sparring between the sceptical Baron and the acidulous Count is gloriously played by Perry and Badel, and Peter Hammond directs it with his usual inventiveness.  Prepared to inform some dimwitted upstart that his credit will be severely limited, Danglars finds himself ridiculed for affecting an egalitarian style while clinging to a title ("Am I to take it, then, that your servants address you as Danglars?"), and dazzled into silence by the Count's fabulous wealth ("A million? My dear sir, if such a trifle could suffice me I should never have taken the trouble to open an account.  A million? You're talking of a sum I take the trouble to carry in my pocketbook").  The Count decides he'll take six million to be getting on with.

At the de Morcerf residence Mercedes is still unable to voice her suspicions about the Count's identity, but fearing what his sudden appearance may mean, she begs Albert to be careful in his dealings with him.

Now to a new location: the Danglars residence, where the Baron's wife is surprised by her husband while sharing a tender moment with young Lucien Debray.  Sharp-eyed viewers may recognise her as the former mistress of M de Villefort, whose child was saved from being buried alive by Bertuccio, as related last week.

Danglars, deciding he'd do well to cultivate the Count's acquaintance, has brought his latest client to meet his family.  As well as his wife there's his quick-witted young daughter Eugenie (Isobel Black), fiancée of Albert de Morcerf, and her companion Louise d'Armilly (Janette Rowsell).  The Count expresses his wish to be introduced to Parisian society; Eugenie suggests the flighty Mme de Villefort as the ideal person to do it.

Baroness Danglars is aggrieved by the news that her favourite dappled grey carriage horses have disappeared.  We get an insight into her husband's unthinking greed when he admits to her that he sold them that morning to a man who offered over the odds for them.  It turns out they now belong to the Count, who professes that he had no idea who their former owner was.

In the Count's house, his devoted servant/mistress Haydée relaxes decorously in her exotic boudoir (the striking resemblance between Natasha Parry as Mercedes and Valerie Sarruf as Haydée is surely no coincidence, serving as it does to underline Edmond's obsession with his lost love).  Haydée's lived her life in servitude of one kind or another, and doesn't quite understand the freedom that the Count offers her: her fondest wish is to stay as his slave, but he wants her to come out into society with him, and find another man if she wishes.  His one request is that she never reveal the identity of her father.

The Count receives news from Bertuccio (now decked out in proper majordomo livery) that his no-good foster son Benedetto (the illegitimate child of de Villefort and Mme Danglars) is on his way to Paris in response to a summons from the Count.  He also announces that the Count's been successful in buying the very house in Auteuil where he rescued the child from his murderous father.  The Count has a further request for his servant: that he bribe Mme Danglars' coachman to make the horses (now returned to her) bolt when she's out riding with Mme de Villefort - exactly as the coach reaches the Count's residence.

We now get to meet Mme de Villefort (Patricia English), who's extremely taken with what she's heard of the Count, and is even more impressed when Mme Danglars shows off the diamond-studded harness that he threw in when he sent back the horses.  Mme Danglars suggests the Count would make an ideal husband for Mme de Villefort's stepdaughter Valentine (Anna Palk).

The highly amused Eugenie can clearly see that Mme de Villefort has the Count in mind for herself.  Louise likens Valentine's stepmother's jealousy of her to her own jealousy of Albert.  The lesbian subtext of the novel's added an extra piquancy by Sandor Elés' extremely camp performance as Albert.

Mmes Danglars and de Villefort head out for a ride along with Valentine, and it's clear Bertuccio's done his job well.  Before long the horses go wild.  Outside the Count's house his mute Nubian slave Ali awaits them with his lasso...

Phew! See what I mean about this week's episode being full of incident? It's almost exhausting to keep up with what's going on, but it's so utterly compelling thanks to all involved.  Not least, of course, Alexandre Dumas, who, long before the invention of TV, created what is surely one of the greatest soap operas ever.

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