1971-1980DramaRichard LoncraineTVUnited Kingdom

Richard Loncraine & Dennis Potter – Blade on the Feather (1980)

New York Times:
THE setting is a rather grand English country home on the Isle of Wight. Two women are bickering as they play lawn tennis. An elderly man reading beneath a tree spots a fly on his hand and begins having an odd attack. A young stranger suddenly appears and gives the man mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or, so to speak, a kiss of life. Later, the victim will thank him for having braved not only the garlic on his breath but ”an old man’s slack mouth.”

So begins ”Blade on the Feather,” a 1980 London Weekend TV production that has been floating around the Public Broadcasting schedule for several weeks and now, tonight at 9:30, can be seen on WNET/13. It was written by Dennis Potter, perhaps best known in this country for ”Pennies From Heaven,” the television mini-series that was made into a film starring Steve Martin. Mr. Potter has a reputation for being brilliantly unorthodox and provocative. ”Blade on the Feather” neatly illustrates why.

Jason Cavendish is a former Cambridge don who has written a very popular children’s book about creatures not unlike Tolkien’s Hobbits. Living with his daughter Christabel (Phoebe Nichols) and his second wife, Linda (Kika Markham), he is a bit eccentric and fervently right- wing, eloquent on the subject of civilization and the need for order – which somehow seems to be related to preserving old-fashioned desserts such as rice pudding and baked jam roll with custard. Take those away, Cavendish insists, and there’s nothing much left. Although his daughter reminds him that ”Mrs. Thatcher won, Daddy, England is safe,” the old gent is terribly agitated about something.

It would be unfair to reveal too much of Mr. Potter’s plot here. It turns out that he is after far bigger fish than his offbeat beginning might suggest. Gradually, ”Blade on the Feather” – which is the title, incidentally, of an Eton boating song – takes on the proportions of a John le Carre thriller as arranged by Harold Pinter. The somewhat slimy subject slithering beneath the surface mysteries is nothing less than treason.

There is an allegation made that all – mind you, all – of the renowned British traitors working for either Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia came from the country’s upper class. That’s not quite true, of course, but the upper-class traitors have indeed been treated with a gentlemanly propriety that is certainly curious. Witness the case of Anthony Blunt, a case that Mr. Potter obviously had in mind when writing his teleplay. Mr. Potter even provides his own theory: The upper class loves only what it owns, and it doesn’t own quite enough of England any more.

This is pretty strong stuff, of course, but England seems preoccupied in recent years with stories of treason and treachery. In any event, most British television critics were enthusiastic in praising ”Blade on the Feather,” and with good reason. The intriguing script has been given a marvelous production, with one of those perfect casts the British seem to conjure up so easily and enviably.

1.19GB | 1h 21mn | 716×537 | mkv



One Comment

  1. Thanks very much. Potter’s distinguished body of work deserves to continue being more widely available.

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