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 ).