1 9 9 0 (UK)
3 x 50 minute episodes
This three-part series was based on the novel by Kingsley Amis. In the opening scene of episode one – in which the branches of a tree literally and bloodily embedded themselves in the body of a girl dressed in a cloak and long dress – director Elijah Moshinsky established an atmosphere as eerie as anything John Carpenter had created for the cinema.
The action took place in and around a country hotel – the eponymous Green Man – to which American visitors were attracted by its historical ghosts, and gourmands by its pretentious menu.
The whiskey-swilling host, Maurice (magnificently portrayed by Albert Finney), was prepared to play upon both aspects of the hotel’s reputation.
His party-piece, an enactment of a strange crackling noise which had been heard in the environs of the hotel, seemed at first nothing more than that.
When Maurice fleetingly glimpsed the Victorian girl on the stairs, the inference was that it might be nothing more than the figment of a mind blurred by alcoholic excess.
Skillfully, Moshinsky drew the world of phantoms and writhing undergrowth closer to the world of Maurice and his family and friends with their very physical preoccupations, building up the tension with sharp intercutting of scenes.
Even in classic horror set-pieces – as when the corpse of Maurice’s father attempted to strangle him – there was no sense that we were being fed cinematic cliches.
Finney, in arguably the television performance of the year, was absolutely compelling. His Maurice lived on a supersensual level, whose idea of foreplay was reciting the menu for his birthday dinner in ultra-seductive tones to doctor’s wife, Diana (Sarah Berger): “stuffed quail laid on a bed of scented vegetables and fungi.” This turned out to be the witty prequel to the seduction scene: “How about the great outdoors?” he suggested patting a mossy bank.
Linda Marlowe, as Maurice’s regular lover, Joyce, was waspish and yet resigned to her lot, while Michael Hordern was superb as the bumbling old patriarch. The only false note was the introduction of Bernard Levin and Clement Freud, playing themselves in the first episode, in performances that were more wooden than the creaking and malevolent trees outside.