I have been desperate to see this film since I first read about it three or four years ago. Through the kindness of a stranger, I finally have done so. Why it has not been made available via VHS or DVD is even more of a mystery to me than it was before.
County Durham, in the bleak north-east of England is the setting for Patrick McGoohan's second Sixties 'kitchen-sink' drama. His first was in the potentially even bleaker location of Sweden! His role in 'Life For Ruth' is, however, much more straightforward than his conscience-raddled postal clerk in 'Two Living, One Dead'.
A blissful family day introduces us to a sweet little girl-child. In a tragic sequence of events she is badly injured in a boating accident on some rocks. She needs a blood transfusion. She doesn't get one. She dies.
Using this excruciatingly sad canvas the story that unfolds is an exploration of how an individual trying to stand by his 'beliefs' is vilified and punished by his dissenting society. The events that the viewer has watched have been so extreme that we, the audience, have been plunged into that dissenting society and want the hapless religious zealot, played by Michael Craig with literally gritted-teeth, punished. The thwarted doctor, James Brown, played by Patrick McGoohan, declares !WAR! but finds that, as another James Brown has mentioned, "War! What is it good for?" By the end of the film McGoohan has communicated how his character's hot anger against the idiotic Craig and his guilt over Ruth's death has mellowed into sad regret for the girl and forgiveness for the tragic humanity that is her father.
The film takes the audience through all the complex issues: Religion versus Secularism. Science versus Superstition. State versus Individual Right. Minority Belief persecuted by Majority Consensus. They are all wheeled out; it could be tedious but it is actually quite thought-provoking. You start the movie detesting Craig's wretched soul but by the end, whilst you don't support him, you have realised that this is a tough conundrum to solve.
Because we had a side at the beginning we are as bewildered as the jury is, at the conclusion of the court-case. As British law requires no shadow of a doubt, then he must be acquitted.
At the same moment Society forgives him, the man's own conscience awakes and he desperately admits both his guilt and his awful sin of pride that led to the entire disaster. He had seen himself as Abraham and had awaited the Angel that would come to stay the hand of death as a reward for his Faith. It was redolent of that old joke where the Holy Man runs to the church in the flooded village telling his flock to remain steadfast, for the Lord will save them. As his flock are taken away in boats he refuses help, saying the Lord will save him. As the final helicopter leaves with the final villager he spurns their help crying, the Lord will save me! As the water folds over his head and he drowns, his soul cries out to the Lord, "I believed in you! Why did you not save me?" And God's voice replies, "What do you mean? I sent you a boat. I sent you a helicopter. What more did you expect?"
McGoohan's Doctor Brown saves this holy man from throwing himself under a bus but he can do little for the same man who is left on the cliff-top howling to the moon for the daughter that was lost on the rocks below him.
May God forgive us all.
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