The film entitled “The Scapegoat” has been adapted to the screen for the second time from the novel of the same name written by Daphne Du Maurier in 1957. The setting in the novel takes place in France, but this film version has England as its background just as the country is preparing for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1952. While the premise of the story is highly implausible, the mix-up makes for much fun on the part of the viewer. Alec Guinness has been highly acclaimed for his portrayal of the main character in the 1959 film version; however, the talented Matthew Rhys did a more than splendid task in his assignment in a dual role.
Scapegoat by Holman-Hunt Wikimedia
The film begins with schoolmaster John Standing (Matthew Rhys) being let go of his position of teaching Greek in a boy’s academy with no future prospects of a job. His only relative is a maiden aunt in Wales. He decided to do a walking tour of England while deciding on his next course of action. At a hotel, the bartender handed him change with the information that his room upstairs was ready. In the men’s room, he came face to face with his own likeness, Johnny Spence, and handed over the change and the key to the room. The two men were shocked at their similarity and made a night of it in the barroom.
John’s Clothing and Identification are Missing
When John Standing woke up in the morning, his clothes and identification were missing, along with Johnny Spence; and Johnny’s clothes and identification had been left in their place. A discreet chauffeur, George, arrived at the hotel to bring Johnny Spence back to the mansion in the family’s Rolls-Royce. John Standing tried to explain himself to George, to no avail.
Upon reaching the lavish homestead, John faced the prospect of meeting his young daughter Mary Lou, known as Piglet (Eloise Webb) who told him first off that Mrs. Simpson had died. It turned out that Mrs. Simpson was Mary Lou’s pet fish and was to be treated to a proper funeral after her father arrived home. Mary Lou thought her father smelled different.
John Meets his New Family
At dinner, John’s behavior was attributed to the fact that he had been drinking. Neither his mother, Lady Spence (Eileen Atkins), nor his wife Frances (Alice Orr-Ewing), nor his brother Paul (Andrew Scott) noticed anything awry. It appeared that his sister Blanche (Jodhi May) had a long-standing disagreement which made her offensive to him. He learned soon enough that Paul’s wife Nina (Sheridan Smith) was having a secret affair with Johnny Spence behind Paul’s back. A mix-up in presents, supposedly brought back by Johnny but provided prudently by the maid Charlotte (Phoebe Nicholls), caused a bit of confusion when his wife Frances received a beautiful necklace and his mistress Nina received some delicate underclothing. Johnny and Frances seemed to be distant with each other.
Frances was somewhat distraught because, while her husband Johnny was away, she accidentally broke his prized plate that he received from his regiment prior to his retirement. Her daughter Mary Lou offered to take the blame for it. They would look for a place in town which might possibly replace it.
Matthew Rhys - Wikimedia
The Leverton Contract
Johnny’s brother Paul asked him if he was successful in getting the contract with Leverton which was necessary to keep the family’s Century Glassworks financially intact. “Johnny” said yes, not really knowing what he was talking about. The family was delighted with the news and so grateful to Johnny. When he visited the glassworks the next day, Johnny was applauded by the workers who felt that their jobs were now secure.
John Begins to Fit In
That evening Mary Lou complained to her father that he did not come in to say goodnight to her, which was his usual habit. She was worried that he would go away and not come back. Johnny promised her that if he would ever go away, she would be the first one to know. In the hall, his sister-in-law Nina whispered to him that she was hoping to spend some time with him. He claimed that he needed to pop outside for some air.
John Learns More of the Family Secrets
The next morning, George informed Johnny that his brother Paul was waiting at the foundry for him and would see him at 10 a.m. Both Nina and Mary Lou asked to go in with him, to which he agreed. While he was in town, he visited the solicitor who told him that there was one million pounds in an account. It was his wife Frances’ account and the money was to be paid only if Frances conceived a male heir, which she did not.
Andrew Scott - Wikimedia
John Meets Bela
In one shop, he informed the owner that he had a painting at the house which he wanted to have assessed. He was looking for his daughter in the shop and the owner pointed upstairs. His mistress Bela was there and informed him that Mary Lou had left with the chauffeur. She told him that Mary Lou wanted a plate made for him from his regiment. Mary Lou had given Bela a gift of perfume from her father. Bela told Johnny that he seemed different, much gentler.
At home, Johnny learned from his mother that the painting he wanted assessed was actually a fake and would not help them out financially. She did not know how they were going to survive. She asked him to come to the shoot which they were hosting the next day.
Johnny Informs Paul of Their Financial Problems
Johnny confessed to Paul that he did not make a deal with Leverton last week as he had said, but that he had met with Leverton that morning. He confided that they needed to raise some finances while they pondered what their next move would be.
Johnny Spence Returns
Johnny went in to say goodnight to Frances. They had separate rooms. Frances confessed that she had broken his regimental plate. He assured her that he was not angry. Johnny stayed with Frances on that night. Unfortunately, Johnny Spence was skulking around the house and saw them together.
Anton Lesser - Wikimedia
Johnny Spence Attempts Murder
Johnny Spence knew that if Frances died, her fortune would be left to him even though they did not have a male child. While the entire family was at the shoot, he convinced Frances to let him give her a hypodermic needle (a highly improbable scenario on the part of Daphne Du Maurier). Fortunately, John Standing returned from the shoot in time to see that Frances needed hospital care. He had her taken to the hospital.
John Confronts Johnny
John went to see Bela who revealed that she knew instinctively that he was not Johnny Spence. She told John where Johnny was. He informed Johnny Spence that Frances did not die, and he would not receive her inheritance. The men began to fight. Johnny took John to the furnace where they continued their fight. Johnny was killed and was thrown in the furnace.
John Plans to Leave
John went back to see Frances and told her that he loved her. Nina noticed that his attitude had changed. His sister Blanche insisted to “Johnny” that she and Paul would take over the foundry, and he was not to set foot there again. He heartily agreed. John went in to say goodnight to Mary Lou. He also remembered to say goodnight to Mr. Rabbit. The maid Charlotte confronted him and told him that she knew he was not Johnny Spence because the two had an affair many years ago and she knew Johnny only too well. He told Charlotte he was leaving and that he only came back because he had promised Mary Lou he would come to her first if he ever left again.
The Coronation - Wikimedia
The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II
The last scene shows the entire family seated before the television watching the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. John is seated next to Frances who is obviously pregnant.
A highly implausible charade, I know. However, it was highly entertaining and worth watching. A remarkable rendition of Daphne Du Maurier’s novel placed in an English setting.