Hello, Mr. Brett…
When Carissa announced this blogathon I felt a wee bit giddy because Sherlock Holmes always comes to mind when I think of Jeremy Brett. He IS Sherlock Holmes in my opinion, no offense to any of the other guys who have played the character.
However, I wanted to look at Brett’s other work for this to expand my horizons, and after an ill-fated attempt at watching him as Malcolm in the 1960 TV production of Macbeth (One of the few available copies is on YouTube and it looks terrible) I found Brett in the “Grace” episode of the early 1970s TV series, Affairs Of the Heart.
Throughout the episode we see a tug of war between the old and the new, history and soon-to-be-history, common themes in Henry James’s work. Jeremy Brett plays an upper-class gentleman, which seemed to be a typical role for him, but he had such style and intensity that he never misfired.
The show ran in Britain for two seasons, and while each episode had a woman’s name, all of them were drawn from Henry James stories and featured distinguished British and American actors.
In the case of “Grace,” the episode was originally broadcast on October 6, 1974. It was based on the 1908 James play, The High Bid, which didn’t make much of a splash in the theater in its first form, a one-act called Summersoft. Well, it couldn’t, seeing as it was never produced. James turned it into a short story in 1898 and then a three-act play, which fizzled after five performances. However, it was revived several times over the years, including one 1970 iteration starring Eartha Kitt.
So. The plot of “Grace” is very simple. The Prodmore family own the mortgage on the Yule estate, but Mr. Prodmore (George Cole) promises to wipe out the Yule family’s sizeable debts if the house’s inheritor, young Captain Yule (Jeremy Brett) marries Prodmore’s daughter, Cora (Celia Bannerman) and sides with the Tories instead of the socialists.
Cora’s not overly enthusiastic about the idea of marrying Captain Yule, but she’ll do it as a last resort. If she had her druthers, though, she’d take a guy she just met, who’s dashing and intriguing and (gasp) a radical.
Into the fray comes American widow, Mrs. Grace Gracedew (Diana Rigg), who’s enthusiastic about the house’s historical value, which mystifies Mr. Prodmore. Captain Yule finds her rather sparky, though, and the two of them have a meeting of the minds and then some.
There’s so much to like in “Grace.” Writer Terrence Feely’s dialogue absolutely crackles, especially in the scenes between Brett and Rigg, who both give elegant performances. Yule’s gruff at first but also shows a lot of consideration for his fellow man, and Grace is wonderfully enthusiastic. Their chemistry is so magnetic that it seems like the other actors follow in their wake.
Naturally, though, the episode isn’t perfect. It’s clear the filmmakers tried to squish James’s three-act into a forty-seven minute program, so the character development is pretty abbreviated though highly concentrated. Rigg and Brett talk and react really fast to each other, so don’t anyone blink.
The sets are meticulously accurate, although lacking in tchotchkes, which is funny because Edwardians liked knick knacks as much as their Victorian predecessors. It was all about prestige. To be fair, these episodes were probably planned and shot in a hurry, so set decoration was likely not a huge priority.
It might seem nitpicky, but the other thing that bugged me a little bit was how long these characters took to lay off their outerwear when they came home. Mr. Prodmore and Cora walk around with their hats firmly on their heads until Captain Yule shows up, whipping his chapeau off almost as soon as he’s announced, and then Mr. Prodmore seems to realize he’s forgotten to do something important. Edwardians wouldn’t have forgotten, because there were rules in that time about headwear.
Then again, none of this really matters to the show as a whole. It’s fun to watch Brett in a role other than Sherlock Holmes, and to see him match wits with an intelligent actress like Diana Rigg is the cherry on top. All in all, Affairs of the Heart was a nice discovery, and now that I’ve seen “Grace,” I’d like to look for the other episodes, too.
For more of the great Jeremy Brett, please see Carissa at Musings Of An Introvert. Thanks for hosting, Carissa–this was fun! Thanks for reading, all, and I hope to see you tomorrow for Dell’s Girl Week. Have a good one…
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