Death in Holy Orders

Campbell has applied a really desperate measure to the corpus of ITV drama, which has lain moribund for decades under the notion that Cries and Whispers is a test of pain and suffering in the paying, longsuffering audience (Hitchcock walked out, said he was “going to the movies,” and probably went to see Fellini’s La Città delle Donne). Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes died the death of this, and so did Roy Marsden’s Commander Dalgliesh.

American television is the counterpoison. Slo-mo, a shaky handheld camera going nowhere, a sneering lady cop, these are the banes that drive out the something rotten. And lo, the patient breathes. Between spasmodic convulsions as the toxin works, there is England, the old seminary by the sea standing like the cliffs of Dover, with seagulls and combers.

The great English actor Alan Howard praises anonymity in this by passing for the great American actor Alan Hewitt. Hugh Fraser, who is perhaps best known in America as ITV’s idea of a comic foil, is superb. Robert Hardy bears witness to the miracle.

It might be said that the real drama as I have described it is somehow reflected in the fictional one. Well, I remember a Beverly Hills matron standing at the front of the theater when Fanny and Alexander had its first run, as though she were directing traffic or running a kindergarten, because we were there for a very important work of art. We were indeed, but what had the lady traffic cop to do with it?

Something about the refectory has the real ambience. This is the most complicated part of things under Campbell’s direction, a quick interchange of positions and points of view, with persons in the background brought to bear upon the foreground dramatically.