8 May 2017 | drednm
A Must See for Penelope Keith Fans
This handsome production of the N.C. Hunter play has several excellent performances to recommend it.
Standard drawing-room drama starts out by establishing the dull lives of a group of people in a residence hotel in Devonshire. The four residents form a disparate group. There's the retired colonel (Richard Vernon) who sleeps away his life when he's not shooting birds. There's a displaced Austrian Jew (Ronald Pickup), and two women at opposite ends of the pole: Mrs. Whyte (Virginia McKenna), a brittle upper-class woman who's lost her money, and Mrs, Ashmore (Joan Sims), a cheerful working-class type. The hotel is run by the dour Mrs. Daly (Dilys Laye) and her dreary adult children.
On a snowy night, in blows Helen Lancaster (Penelope Keith) with husband and daughter in tow. Seems their car skidded off the road and they are stranded. She immediately takes over the household, asking for rooms, hot soup, and a place by the fire. Everyone acquiesces, even though it means one resident will have to sleep on the couch.
As the storm rages and the days go by, Helen Lancaster is still there and disrupting the lives of the residents. She's especially enamored of the displaced Austrian and chirps and chats about Old Vienna and music and art. As New Year's Eve approaches, she decides they must have a party.
The party does not go well. Mrs. Whyte becomes more and more resentful of the breezy Helen and her inane and insincere chitchat. Mrs. Daly's daughter (Lesley Dunlop) also grows weary of the obvious wealth Helen displays, and the sickly son (Dean Allen) gets drawn into the talk about continental travel and skiing in Switzerland with Miss Lancaster (Clare Byam-Shaw).
On New Year's Day, the weather changes and a thaw means the Lancasters may soon be leaving. As they pack up to leave it becomes obvious that Helen's casual invitations to visit London are meaningless. The lives she has disrupted are already forgotten as she stresses about meeting city friends for lunch. She also bemoans the dull life that must be spent in the country as her husband (Geoffrey Palmer) finally gets everything packed in the car.
After he departure the residents must pick up the pieces of their dull routines though they may have been changed by the vivacious stranger.
Keith, McKenna, and Pickup are terrific as the main characters, and the supporting cast is admirable. The outside set of terraced garden and house exterior is excellent. Hard to find, but worth the hunt.