Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mrs Amworth {1975} – review


Directed by: Alvin Rakoff

First aired: 1975

Contains spoilers

This UK short was a pilot for the TV series “Classic, Dark and Dangerous”(EDIT *please  note the comment below, from Brad, about the series itself, and how it aired) and was later edited into the film “Three Dangerous Ladies” (1977). I came across the film when I was researching the 2007 version and the first thing to say is that this is much closer to the original E F Benson story. This is both in story content and in feel – though the fact that it was a UK production probably helped generate the genteel English atmosphere.

I managed to find the VHS of this on E-Bay and, as far as I know, it is only available in that format. It runs at 29 minutes and begins with Mrs Amworth (Glynis Johns, yes – the mother from Mary Poppins) driving along in her little sports car, humming Greensleeves. The first impression one gets is of a fun, slightly ditzy woman with erratic road sense.

John Phillips as UrcombeShe spots Benson (Derek Francis) at a bus stop meeting a young man, his nephew David (Pip Miller), and offers them a lift. During the journey she mentions the epidemic that holds the village in its grip. When she drops them off she ensures David is aware of the garden party she is holding that day. She goes on to the graveyard and leaves flowers at a grave, all the time watched by Urcombe (John Phillips). He looks at the grave, it belongs to Elizabeth Chaston who died in 1644.

Urcombe, David and Benson at the partyAt the party much of the conversation is geared around the epidemic – though Mrs Amworth tries to steer the conversation away from it. The local doctor, Ross (Rex Holdsworth), has a theory that it might be caused by the gnats plaguing the village. He has sent to London for specialist advice. Later we discover that the first symptoms are like anaemia, though standard treatment doesn’t work. David is bitten by a gnat.

David becomes very illThe next day he is unwell, but puts it down to hangover. A visiting Mrs Amworth insists that he, his Uncle and Urcombe visit her for cards that night. During the game Mrs Amworth admits that she has not been to the hospital for a blood test – they are testing everyone who is willing, to search for an answer to the mystery illness. She also admits that her ancestors, the Chastons, came from the village. We discover that, since leaving Oxford as a Professor, Urcombe has become somewhat of an occultist. The next day there has been a break in at the hospital and the blood is gone. David is also really ill.

hand at the windowUrcombe is researching. He hears a noise at a window and sees a hand push it open. He slams it shut trapping the hand. He sees a figure – clearly Mrs Amworth – running across his lawn. He knows the truth now but also knows no one will believe him.

hit by a carHe visits Benson the next day and tells him of his research. There was a plague in the village in the 1640s, similar to that occurring. The people spoke of witchcraft and suspicion fell upon one Elizabeth Chaston. Mrs Amworth comes to the door, her hand bandaged, and he makes the sign of the cross at her, causing her to back off into the path of an oncoming car.

the vampire returns and feedsTwo months have past. The gnats have gone and David is well enough to return home – though he still seems fascinated by Mrs Amworth, despite the fact that he hardly knew her. Urcombe, of course, realises, that a vampire cannot die through a car crash and she will soon return.

The lore in this is interesting. Mrs Amworth is obviously voracious in her appetite – there are 23 cases of the epidemic mentioned at one point. There is a mentioned, though generally unexplored, connection with gnats, an association fairly rare in the genre. However, between the gnats and the epidemic we return to the old favourite of the vampire as plague carrier.

a coffin had to come into itShe can become insubstantial, much like a ghost, probably explaining why the VHS cover mentions ghosts when it is clearly a vampire movie. She is immune to the effects of sunlight but can be killed by piercing the heart – the manner and method of piercing seems unimportant.

Glynis Johns as Mrs AmworthThe performances are all good UK drama performances but special mention must go to Johns who treads a fine line between ditzy and thoroughly malevolent. There is a look to camera which just smoulders with hatred and a laugh she gives, when caught feeding, contains pure malice in its timbre.

The short really contains nothing resembling gore, even the feed doesn't show blood at all. That said it manages to generate a tangible atmosphere, in a very ghost story type of way. A fine short that (fairly) accurately tells the original tale. 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Derek "Ruthven" Tatum said...

I must say, that is one embarrassing video cover. It looks like they were marketing it as some kind of kiddie flick.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Derek, can't argue with that (in fact it is the one aspect in which the 2007 version is superior) - guess they were trying to cash in on a Mary Poppins connection

czechOUT said...

Oh MY GOD. "Emptied the blood".

Sings Greensleeves.

I loved this. The quote I hope you will remember as also the blood curdling scream.

DVD now, I wish.


Taliesin_ttlg said...

I do remember the quote and the scream was marvelous. I can't see a DVD release of this solo, but maybe the film it was put into might be.

cheers for the comment

Brad said...

I really enjoyed this one, especially the performance of Glynis Johns! I also wanted to mention that the series "Classics, Dark and Dangerous" was indeed produced, and was made up of 6 half-hour dramas. I believe each eventually aired on TV, but it was pretty sporadic. All six, however, were made available to public school systems and libraries at the time, mainly on 16mm film. The other tales are "The Silver Blaze" (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle); "The Rocking Horse Winner" (D.H. Lawrence); "The Island" (L.P. Hartley); "The Ugly Little Boy" (Issac Asimov) and "The Mannikin" (Robert Bloch). THREE DANGEROUS LADIES combined "Mrs Amworth" with "The Island" and "The Manniken," while another video release, THREE TALES DARK AND DANGEROUS, gathered the other 3 stories (and it was broadcast on TV in North America in October 1982). Cheers! :)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers for that Brad, I stand correct. Research suggested that the series went unmade but perhaps more correct to say it was unaired in the first instance (though aired, as you point out, sporadically later).

I'll look to editing the review given the info provided, and gratefully recieved :)