AVAILABLE ON DVD: NOW, from SIMPLY MEDIA
RUNNING TIME: 148 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Maurice Allington is the lecherous, alcoholic owner of a 17th century hotel and restaurant called The Green Man situated a few miles outside Cambridge. With him live his wife Joyce, his daughter Amy and his father known commonly as “Gramps”. The success of the place in most good food guides is owed mainly to Maurice, who regales his customers with his knowledge of fine wine and tales of ghosts that still haunt the corridors. Though people tend to believe the ghost stories are part of an act, Maurice does regularly see the ghost of a young woman. At a birthday dinner for Maurice, Gramps sees something horrifying and shortly after dies from a cerebral hemorrhage. Then Maurice sees a vision of his dead father and soon after that a spectral vision of a man in 17th century clothes in the dining room….
Three seconds into The Green Man [yes, that early!], I received an answer to a mystery that has….well, I wouldn’t quite say that it’s plagued me for around two decades….but it’s certainly been stuck there in my mind, and every now and again I hoped that I would find the answer to it [I suppose posting the question on a message board may have given the answer to me nice and quick, but for some reason that never occurred to me until now!]. This is a downright odd way to begin a review I know, but you see, many years ago, I saw the beginning scene to some kind of horror thing involving a girl walking in the woods and suddenly being gorily attacked by a tree, and for some reason saw no more. Now I cannot for the life of me remember exactly why I didn’t watch further, though I doubt very much that it would have been because I was too frightened, as I was already a seasoned horror veteran by then. In any case, it turned out to be the beginning bit to The Green Man [though I think it was too late to have been the first BBC showing – it must have either been a repeat or even a video], and I almost hit the roof with joy three hours ago today when I began watching the recently released DVD of the three part mini-series and almost immediately recognised the first scene!
Indeed, a strange way to begin a review you might say, but there doesn’t seem to be much information about The Green Man, which was based on a 1969 novel of the same title by Kingsley Amis, and was filmed in Dorset, doubling for Cambridgeshire. I do distinctly remember [of course, I never put the two and two together] there being something of a fuss about its somewhat perverse nature when it showed on TV, but I’m now going to skip my usual background information paragraph and go straight into the review proper. The Green Man is actually quite an odd beast, and there were sections where I didn’t feel it was entirely working, but odd can be fun, and The Green Man is certainly that. I haven’t read the novel, but this adaptation is basically a conventional, even cosy, ghost story with the odd very disturbing element and a whole lot of material, usually of a surprisingly light nature, which often comes across as filler rather than being necessary to the whole thing, but which still manages to make for an enjoyable watch, though I can’t help but think [again, I haven’t read the original novel] that it could do with a cinema remake [yes, I know I’ve just all-but-wished-for a remake so no doubt some crappy new version will now come out] which would be tighter, more focused, and scarier. In some ways that frightening opening scene sets a standard for scariness which the rest of The Green Man can’t live up to!
Nonetheless what we have here is continually absorbing despite its length. This in part due to Albert Finney’s tremendous performance as Maurice Allington which I feel ranks amongst his very work. He’s just fantastic to watch, the part allowing him to truly display his versatility including his rarely employed comic timing, and gets the viewer to care about a very unsympathetic protagonist, in the process creating a very pointed, yet in its own way quite poignant, portrait of middle aged crisis. Maurice seems to be very successful, owning a hotel and restaurant which brings in the money and has a good reputation, largely due to his telling of made-up ghost stories to diners, but he constantly needs a glass of whisky in his hand and has an out-of-control libido which requires him to constantly cheat on his wife. One amusing moment near the beginning has him say how horrible the cheaper wines are to a pair of guests, not out of honesty but so they will hopefully buy one of the expensive ones. Of course, he also keeps seeing a ghost, and the appearance of a spectral female who looks at him as she walks down the stairs raises quite a frisson, though one disappointing thing about The Green Man [especially considering how terrifying some of the old BBC ghost tales can be] is that, while it’s often tense and not at all boring, it never gets quite as scary as you want it to, though this possibly makes it perfect Halloween viewing if you want to be entertained by a spook story which is full of interesting stuff going on but don’t want anything too intense or anything that might give you nightmares!
In fact, outside of the beginning, the most spine chilling moment is provided by Micheal Hordern as Maurice’s father, his look of fear when he sees something at the dinner table that frightens him to death being one of the best looks of fear I’ve ever seen, Hordern totally selling the moment. It’s only in the third episode though when The Green Man becomes a full blown horror, up to then the ghost stuff being almost in the background as we follow Maurice around constantly drinking his whisky and having his latest fling, a plot strand which climaxes [sorry] in a most amusing fashion when a threesome doesn’t go entirely the way he planned but is probably many men’s dream. The final half hour is undeniably exciting, but it isn’t the ‘real’ climax. The real climax, some of it taking the form of a shower scene which won’t give better known shower scenes any competition in scariness but may just stick in the mind because of its dodgy ramifications, has Maurice realise certain feelings that he has, and these feelings ain’t pretty. Put it this way, I can’t imagine them remaking The Green Man [okay, maybe they shouldn’t remake it, a statement which I know is in complete contradiction to something I said earlier] without removing an important element from it!
One of the pleasures of The Green Man is its many colourful supporting characters. I especially liked the female friend who believes him [everyone else appears to think his claims of seeing ghosts to be part of his act, even when he runs through the dining room in total terror] and finds it all cool and exciting until things get serious, the smarmy head waiter [maybe he wants Maurice’s job], and a wonderful gay vicar who doesn’t believe in an afterlife and thinks “ people worry too much about the end of the world”. He states his simple, practical [and, to this non-believer, actually rather meaningful] view of religion in a superbly scripted couple of lines in a mini-series which contains quite a few great little bits of dialogue, often when Maurice is communicating with the villainous ghost of the piece [he’s quite creepy, though I wish the woman at the beginning, whose identity I think I guessed, played a greater part]. While I feel that The Green Man fails to totally fulfil its potential, there’s some intelligence and depth to it, such as the almost subliminal contrast between supposedly civilised ‘modern’ paganism and unashamed full-on old-style paganism, and the always interesting [to me anyway….it forms the basis of possibly the best British horror film ever made] conflict between Christianity and the ancient paganism which it supplanted in the UK. In a way, the most intriguing aspects of The Green Man [and yes, there is a sort of ‘green man’ in it, though it’s hardly used] are the ones that are very subtly presented, while it’s also content to keep viewers guessing about certain things, like a strange appearance by….well…. an Angel? The Almighty himself? While I wasn’t entirely satisfied by it on my first viewing, I think it’ll become richer with successive ones.
The limited special effects are fine with the exception of a very poorly projected bat-type creature, while the cast all pretty much contribute fine work and go a long way to making The Green Man as good as it is. Director Elijah Moshinsky keeps things moving despite the script’s diversions while Tim Souster’s creepy score, which deservedly won a BAFTA, is highly effective and I imagine would be a really scary listen on its own. The Green Man isn’t quite a neglected classic of TV horror, but it has some good and fascinating stuff in it and, as long as you don’t expect loads of scares, is well worth a purchase.
Simply Media’s DVD of The Green Man [which was released previously by 2entertain] is virtually bare bones but contains a pretty good transfer considering its source as a TV programme. Don’t expect anything great, but, played on my Blu-ray upscaled, it looked rather good, almost cinematic, and far better than you’d probably expect a TV programme to ever look.