Thursday, 5 May 2016

391 The Mallens

First  viewed  : 10 June  1979

This  Sunday  night  adaptation  of   a   series  of   Catherine  Cookson  potboiler  novels  about  a  lusty  squire  whose  sexual  exploits  cause  mayhem  in  nineteenth  century  Northumberland  certainly  provided  some  talking  points. I  vividly  recall  a  school  mate  describing   a  scene  in  History  - "he  was  on  top  of  her, mauling  her !"  My  Gran  knew  the  books  and  was  a  Cookson  fan  ; my  mum  preferred  the  more  escapist  fantasies  of  the  ludicrous  Barbara  Cartland.

The  central  figure  in  the  first  series  is  lupine  serial  rapist  Thomas  Mallen  ( John  Hallam ) a  country  squire  whose  attempts  to  stave  off  bankruptcy  by  marrying  his  legitimate  son  Richard  ( David  Rintoul )  to  a  coal  heiress  are  thwarted  by  the  careless  talk  of  a  servant  , compounded  by  Richard  accidentally  shooting  a  bailiff. He  is  forced  to  live  in  straitened  circumstances   with  his  nieces,  Barbara  ( Pippa  Guard )  and  Constance ( Julia  Chambers )   and  their  resourceful  governess  Miss  Brigmore ( Caroline  Blakiston )  who  becomes  his  lover. The  two  girls  are  courted  by  a  pair  of  brothers  the  Radlets  from  a  nearby  farm . Donald  ( John  Duttine )  is  actually  Thomas's  son  , the  product  of  a  casual  rape  in  the  opening  scene, and  has  the  tell  tale  Dickie  Davies  white  streak  in  his  hair. His  mother  Jane  ( Gillian  Lewis ) then  married  and  had  a  legitimate  son ,   the  consumptive  Matthew  ( Ian  Saynor ). This  only  leads  to  more  tragedy  and  the  cast  was  severely  depleted  by  the  end  of  the  first  series, Thomas  offing  himself  after  not  recognising   in  the  dark  that  his  last  victim  was  Barbara.

The  Mallens  was  another  step  in  my  sex  education  with  my  Mum  having  to  explain  exactly  how  Donald  Radlet  knew  on  his  wedding  night  that   Constance  had  already  been  with  someone  else; the  word  "hymen"  now  entered  into  my  vocabulary.  Despite  the  fact  that  sex  drives  the  plot,  there  was  virtually  no  nudity  at  all  in  the  series ;  a  quick  glimpse  of  John  Duttine's  bum  in  the  dark  and  Caroline  Blakiston's  bare  back  were  all  you  got.

Another  reason  The  Mallens  was   popular  was  the  high  production  values  , worthy  of   something  a  little  more  high  brow. The  Northumbrian  scenery  is  jaw-dropping  although  the  Mallens'  mansion  was   actually  Illam  Hall  Youth  Hostel  in  the  Peak  District. In  addition  to  that  the  cast  was  selected  with  unusual  care; all  the  people  who  were  supposed  to  be  related  did  actually  look  similar , particularly  Matthew  , his  son  and  his  father.

Sadly,  the  second  series  in  1980  was  a  bit  of  a  let  down. Set  20  years  later it  concentrated  a  la  Wuthering  Heights  on  the  next  generation  represented  by  Michael  Radlet  ( Gerry  Sundqvist )  , the  son  of  Constance  and  Matthew  though  brought  up  as  Donald's  ( the  brothers  were  both  killed  in  a  skirmish  at  the  end  of  the  first  series )  and  Barbara  ( Juliet  Stevenson  in  her  first  screen  role  )  the  offspring  of  Thomas's  final  rape  ( the  elder  Barbara  died  giving  birth  to  her ) who  is  deaf  ( despite  Thomas  and  his  niece  not  being  blood  relatives ). They  find  each  other  despite  the  best  efforts  of   the  survivors,  Miss  Brigmore  and  Constance  ( now  played  by  June  Ritchie  , another  good  match )  to  keep  them  apart  and  the  cycle  begins  again.

It  just  didn't  grip  in  the  same  way  and  seemed  slow, with  the  producers  going  over  the  top  on  the  setting  to  compensate.  At  one  point   there's  a  country  fete  and  the  camera  abandons  the  characters  and  goes  wandering  around  the  set  for  a  good  five  minutes  just  to  use  up  the  time. By  contrast  the  ending  where  Barbara  and  Michael  end  up  drowning  each  other  seemed  rushed  and  unsatisfactory  ( and, as  my  Gran  protested  , seriously  at  variance  with  the  books ).

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