The Devil's Disciple

George Bernard Shaw

This film in the BBC Bernard Shaw set is rather like a reworking of A Tale of Two Cities albeit with a very different ending.

Rather than the French Revolution, the play is set in 1777 during the American War of Independence and juxtaposes the diabolical Sydney Carton figure with a rather worthy Scottish-American priest, Anthony Anderson. The latter is played by Patrick Stewart long before his Star Trek days.

Mike Gwilym is a rather dissolute and slightly unlikely Dick Dudgeon, a rebel to the core who laughs at the British, even when they are taking him to the gallows.

He is first seen at the reading of his late father's will in opposition to his mother, a sharply unfriendly woman well rendered by Elizabeth Spriggs. Despite his rough edges, this rebel has a real humanity that comes to the fore when his illegitimate stepsister is bullied.

His dealings with the priest are mixed, which is hardly surprising when he spreads the word that he is the Devil's Disciple. Nobility, though, shines through when the British come looking for a scapegoat to murder. Then, a complex but very passionate love-hate relationship develops between Dudgeon and Anderson's wife Judith, played by Susan Wooldridge, the pick of the actors in a very fine cast.

The final phase of the play takes place in the courtroom and before the gallows as a pair of upper-class Brits, Benjamin Whitrow playing the straight faced Major Swindon and Ian Richardson a remarkably sarcastic Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne, try to deal out justice in the face of a collapsing war strategy that is being accidentally sabotaged from home.

With attractive music from Stephen Oliver but low-budget sets, David Jones' production is distinguished both by its strong cast and a robust plot with enough twists and turns to satisfy almost anybody.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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