1 9 9 1 (UK)
4 x 60 minute episodes
Three young white sisters living on the Caribbean island of Dominica are cared for by their black Methodist nanny Lally (Madge Sinclair) and their governess, Mamselle (Carmen Du Sautoy) while their Creole mother, the Madam (Diana Quick) awaits the return of her husband – the Master (Nigel Terry) – from the First World War.
Lally, the house cook Christophine (Leonie Forbes) and her young son, Baptiste (Lennie James), wait with the family for the return of Master from Europe. Madam wonders why Master has delayed his return.
Master eventually does return but he is suffering from shellshock and remains cold towards Madam. The girls give him a puppy called Flanders, which he subsequently kills.
Meanwhile, Madam’s brother, Marse Rufus (Michael Elwyn), seeks advice from Master on how to improve himself and his magazine but is humiliated by an indifferent Master, who is now suffering fits.
Seeking peace, he employs an African opium dealer from Haiti called Mr Lilipoulala (Peter Straker). In short order, Master’s addiction has made him a slave to Lilipoulala.
The three daughters – Stella (Kate Buffery), Joan (Frances Barber) and Natalie (Elizabeth Hurley) – grow up and move away and live abroad in Trinidad, America and England.
Fast forward 20 years to the late 1930s and the daughters return to the island and we see how things have moved on – but how some of the problems the girls’ fled have remained unchanged. Master remains broken and enslaved, formerly subservient Creole friends are economically in the ascendant, symbolically nursing the ailing whites, while the black peasants are in revolt.
The return of the girls offers a meditation on the role of whites in the rapidly changing society, the possibility of redemption for past sins, and actions that might lead to renewal.
Stella kills Lilipoulala to free her father. Radical Joan’s way of cleansing the past is to make cause with Baptiste, the militant teacher son of their former cook, in order to organise the black peasants to overthrow the social order.
Wealthy Natalie believes that her money can both heal her father and save their status.
The Orchid House was based on a novel by Phyllis Shand Alfrey, directed by Horace Ové and filmed on location in Dominica for Channel 4.
Carmen Du Sautoy
The Return of the Master | Stella | Joan | Natalie