Thursday, 6 September 2012

The Scapegoat starring Matthew Rhys, Sheridan Smith, Eileen Atkins PREVIEW

Jodhi May, Matthew Rhys, Alice Orr-Ewing, Sheridan Smith
Double-dealings in The Scapegoat. Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★½

ITV1: Sunday, 9 September, 9pm

Story: Teacher John Standing has just lost his job when his life takes a turn of bizarre and dangerous proportions. He meets a man in a pub-hotel who is his exact likeness. Johnny Spence is a charmer who wines and dines John, but when John wakes the following morning, Johnny has disappeared with John's clothes. Johnny's driver then arrives to take John 'home', which turns out to be a huge country estate…

The Scapegoat is based on a Daphne du Maurier story of swapped identity. It has an engrossing performance from Matthew Rhys in the dual role of brutish Johnny and sensitive John, who are the spitting image of each other, along with a terrific cast in Sheridan Smith, Eileen Atkins, Jodhi May, Alice Orr-Ewing and Andrew Scott.

Sheridan Smith, Matthew Rhys
It also looks fabulous, a convincing vision of the 1950s, with subdued lighting and rich red tones, all within the setting of a dowdy but magnificent country estate in decline.

The only problem is that you have to take the story with a huge dose of salt. Two men may look alike, but the idea that their speech, manner, hairstyle and everything else were so close that one of them could move into the other's family, make love to his wife etc, and no one would notice really borders on the daft.

Matthew Rhys enjoys himself, particularly as the evil Johnny
Doubles are fun, no mistake. Everyone from Stalin to Saddam Hussein's had one, though Charlie Chaplin's failure in a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest shows how hard it is to convince people you look like yourself. And the lookalike is a staple of literature, from The Man in the Iron Mask and A Tale of Two Cities to Coraline.

Eileen Atkins
So if disbelief can be suspended there is intrigue and fun to be had, and Matthew Rhys, star of Brothers and Sisters and brilliant in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, certainly enjoys himself here, particularly as the evil Johnny Spence.

Johnny is a bastard, loathed by his family, with debts on his country estate. His sister hates him, mother tolerates him, he's sleeps with his brother's wife, among other mistresses, and is generally spiteful and nasty. What he wouldn't do to escape the mess of his life.



Daphne du Maurier
Alice Orr-Ewing
And then he by chance encounters a man who is the spitting image of himself, a quiet bloke, a teacher who's just been fired. Johnny has a boozy evening with doppelganger John, but in the morning is nowhere to be seen, having left with John's belongings.

Hungover John is bemused by the offer of a lift from Johnny's chauffeur in their luxury car, and before he knows it he is at Johnny's crumbling stately home. It is amusing watching John bumbling around the house, seduced by the nobs' lifestyle and blagging his way into their world.

Andrew Scott
There is dark humour along with themes personal to du Maurier, author of stories such as Rebecca, The Birds and Don't Look Now, themes of the neglected daughter, the young manipulated wife who feels inadequate, the ominous presence of a doppelganger. And of course there is the all-seeing housekeeper.

It is hard to get away from feeling that the central story is so contrived – John being so good, Johnny so rotten – but by the end of this 90-minute thriller when events turn murderous, the production and actors certainly cast du Maurier's suspenseful spell.

Cast: Matthew Rhys John Standing/Johnny Spence, Sheridan Smith Nina, Jodhi May Blanche, Eileen Atkins Lady Spence, Alice Orr-Ewing Frances, Andrew Scott Paul