The Dark Angel - The Complete Series DVD review
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The 1987 adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu Victorian Gothic thriller Uncle Silas finally comes to DVD...
Fascinated by stories of her mysterious estranged Uncle Silas and his portrait, Maud Ruthyn soon finds herself under his care when her father suddenly dies unexpectedly. With a blind devotion to her “Papa”, Maud is unwilling to believe unnerving rumours about her uncle and is unruffled by his challenging of her father's will. But as days pass on her Uncle's estate, Maud becomes a prisoner locked in a room and everyone seems to scheme against her. There are soon very few people she can trust, with the exception of the Gamekeeper's daughter, Peg; the inaccessible maid, Mary, and her equally difficult to reach, Aunt Monica.
Before her father's demise in the first episode, there are already signs life will not be easy for the young heiress. Cousin Monica's warning for Maud to not be frightened but “be on [her] guard” indicates there'll be a turn in events. The introduction of the evil cackling governess is surely a Victorian Gothic prerequisite and early remarks about Silas set us up for our later meeting: “A man of great talents, great faults, great wrongs”.
Almost seeming normal, finally meeting Silas is anti-climactic – that is, until we see his unnervingly sexual manner with Maud and meet his slightly incestuous family. Warning bells ring when Silas describes his estate as a “Temple of Liberty” and scene-setting shots of Silas' bedside reading, hint at the demonic: “Heaven and Hell: The World Of The Spirits”. Mysterious references to a “dark angel that is stirring”, untold secrets, Maud's father's urgent need to make plans and his tendency to speak in riddles and half-meanings also suggest The Dark Angel will dabble in the occult.
Classic Gothic horror devices are also put to good use to make The Dark Angel a suitably uncomfortable watch. Pages rapidly turn in the wind, lightening illuminates otherwise dark rooms, snake rattling noises are heard, branches hammer on the window, the voices of whispering plotters reverberate, eyes are shown peering through peep holes and there are plenty of nightmare sequences. Classic TV literary adaptation director Peter Hammond (Sherlock Holmes, Tales of the Unexpected, Wuthering Heights, Our Mutual Friend, Cold Comfort Farm) also cranks up the tension through unsettling cinematography, playing on the Victorian reliance on medicinal Opium, Laudanum and Brandy to create drug-induced visions through hazy camera focus, distorted imagery and affective mirror rain reflections.
Aside from Hammond's join-the-dots scene-setting, Sheridan le Fanu creates some truly loathsome characters in Madame de La Rougierre and Maud's cousin, Dudley. The vile wedding proposal Maud receives from Dudley is enough to make any stomach churn and a surreal reunion with her governess is genuinely creepy. Governess, Madame de La Rougierre, is irritatingly almost pantomime-like - eating like a “wolf” with her terrible false-sounding French accent. La Rougierre may be poorly voice-trained but her character is certainly well-written, putting candle flames out with her bare fingers and performing a peculiar dance around the graveyard headstones.
The film's special effects are a little ropey at times and acting a touch melodramatic but the eerie title-track is certainly hypnotic and in the context of when it was made, The Dark Angel, is actually a fairly decent gothic adaptation.
Director: Peter Hammond
Writer: Don Macpherson
Running Time: 180 mins
Starring: Peter O'Toole, Jane Lapotaire, Beatie Edney, Guy Rolfe
The Dark Angel - The Complete Series is out now.
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