The DVD arrived on Thursday.
I didn’t want to watch it piece-by-piece, eight episodes strung out over eight weeks and reviewed each week in my usual, inimitable fashion (who on Earth would want to imitate it?) This is more than a half century old television series to me, watched once and barely remembered until it was first mooted for sale on Amazon seven years ago. It’s more than the nostalgia of my family gathered to watch it, week-in, week-out. It’s a part of my own history, filmed in Ravenglass, where my grandfather was born, all along that main street leading from the bridge under the railway line and down to the sea. Twice in the years this programme was made we stayed in self-catering cottages on that street, two different ones. I couldn’t recognise them from the footage, but I could and did remember the stone barn against which I would spend long evening hours kicking a football: aye, I remember, would that I didn’t, for a memory that burns me with embarrassment but won’t ever go away.
I wanted to gulp it down in one go, take in the lot of it, immerse myself in what was. I didn’t remember much of it, and what I anticipated came more from the book, which was more than somewhat revised for this adaptation. The lengthy and informative booklet that comes with the DVD answered a question I had been wondering about: the series was broadcast in January and February 1972, whereas we didn’t get our first colour television until March of that year, so the one time I had seen it before had been in monochrome, though undoubtedly I saw Ravenglass as I knew it, in colour in my mind.
And I’m not going to review it in any familiar sense, even though I couldn’t halp but make mental notes of the things I would otherwise go into. There was much more to the series, to the individual characters, than the ‘story’ of Arnold Haithwaite, Acting Sand Pilot of Skirlston, living with his ‘Dad’, Ernest, who won’t tell him who he really is, and the arrival of the stranger from Manchester, the Intruder, who claims that he is Arnold Haithwaite and so Arnold can’t be (even at the time, aged sixteen, it struck me as phoney, this fundamental belief that there could only be one person named Arnold Haithwaite in the entire worled, though i can see more clearly now the reasons for the effect it has now).
There are stories within the story, each central figure in the cast having their own issues and concerns, none really having any bearing upon any of the others yet bundled together by virtue of being in this place at this time.
The cast were mostly very good, though practically none of the actors were playing their own age. James Bate, as Arnold, had the hardest job, the main character, the only one to appear in all eight episodes, a slow, stolid lad unable to keep up, who got more and more unsympathetic as the series went on. I was amused to see that Jane, the main female role, was played by Stella Ruskin, who only this past week I saw in Country Matters: she said and did a lot more here as well as wearing a lot less, bikinis and micro-skirts, a slender 23 year old playing 15.
But the plaudits have to go to Milton Johns, as Sonny, the Intruder. From his first moment onscreen, his first words, that funny, common as muck yet sneering accent, he was the only thing you saw when he was onscreen. A funny little man, with big dreams, impossible dreams, determined to shape the world around him, exploitive, unbalanced, liable to explode at any moment by virtue of which people bent over backwards to prevent that explosion. You sensed the danger. And there was a sting in the tail, when he died, drowned, leaving the enigma behind, who and what he was unexplained.
There was plenty of nuance to be explored. The ending, wholly the work of the adapters, Mervyn Haisman and Producer Peter Plummer but built upon the book, was beautifully assembled and there was a visual element to it that was blatant but which would have needed an entire separate series to tease out its implications for the character involed: no, not Arnold. Plummer was also responsible for The Owl Service, and the visual and musical style was familiar. I can’t put The Intruder on a par with The Owl Service, for the latter was a deeper and more serious story, because it adapted a deeper and more serious book.
But it was more important to me in being a time capsule, drawing me back to things that never can be again. And in that respect it was priceless.