Seance on a Wet Afternoon

Seance on a Wet AfternoonI came to a conclusion this weekend: Richard Attenborough is one of my favourite actors.

Nothing earth shattering there, I’ll admit, but I thought I’d mention it as this only dawned on me while watching 1964’s Seance on a Wet Afternoon last night.

Previously, the only reference I’d heard to the film was in the title of a 1973 episode of Steptoe and Son, Seance in a Wet Rag and Bone Yard.

Like most Steptoes it was, of course, brilliant: Harold still trapped by his old dad in that junk yard while the world carries on outside the gates, oblivious to the tragedy taking place every week…

But I digress.

Seance…stars Richard Attenborough as Bill Savage, husband to Myra Savage (Kim Stanley). We join the film partway into the hatching of their plot to kidnap the daughter of a local businessman, Mr Clayton (Mark Eden, fresh from playing Marco Polo the Doctor Who and years away from portraying tram-troubling Alan Bradley in Coronation Street) and his wife, Mrs Clayton (Nanette Newman).

Their plot – to kidnap the girl and then prove Myra’s clairvoyant abilities by having her carry out a seance where she can then ‘psychically’ reveal the victim’s whereabouts – is technically only Myra’s plot.

Myra’s influence over her husband is seemingly unbreakable, leading to the sort of ‘troubled’ acting that Attenborough does so well (see 10 Rillington Place (1971) for another example). He’s never at ease here, and neither is the viewer.

Director Bryan Forbes (whose translation of the James Clavell novel King Rat (1965) to the big screen I devoured one afternoon recently) had an eye for the mundane amongst the madness, realising that it’s in the detail – such as the spelling mistakes in the ransom note – that the viewer can identify with characters, while the bigger story develops around them.

It’s a superb film, with a haunting performance from Kim Stanley, for which she was Oscar nominated that year (she lost out to Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins), and boasting a fine John Barry score.

As I mentioned above, Dickie Attenborough cements himself in my mind as one of our finest screen actors, while his partnership with Forbes produced some memorable pictures: The Angry Silence (1960), The League of Gentlemen (1960) and Whistle Down the Wind (1961) to name but three.

And I still love The Great Escape every Christmas, even if it is just on DVD.

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