A magnificent screen career more or less comes to an end with The Vision. Dirk Bogarde was one of the finest British screen actors of all time, best-known perhaps for Death in Venice and The Servant, though he had a long matinee idol phase for the Rank Organisation.
Bogarde still had just over a decade to live when he made The Vision in 1987, but he had more or less retired from acting to enjoy a second, more fulfilling career as a writer, producing seven astonishingly fine volumes of autobiography as well as several novels. It’s interesting to ponder: what, or who, persuaded him out of retirement to make this television drama?
The Vision sees an older, wiser Bogarde than we’re used to seeing on screen, but he’s lost not of his power, presence or deft subtlety. The Vision was an episode of the long-running television series Screen Two – a kind of latterday ‘Play for Today’ – in which each instalment was a standalone production. Simon Gray’s After Pilkington, which starred Bob Peck, Barry Foster and Miranda Richardson, is another famous example from the franchise.
In The Vision, Dirk Bogarde is somewhat miscast, as, in his 60s, he is too old to convincingly play the father of a teenager (an early screen outing for Helena Bonham Carter as his daughter). OK, it’s by no means impossible, but his performance is a little like the one he gave opposite Julie Christie in her Oscar-winning turn in Darling when he was similarly cast as a fusty academic. That came in the 1960s. Here, two decades later, he plays James Marriner, a semi-retired television presenter who is encouraged to host a show for a brand-new American Christian network that has made its way to the UK. Enter Lee Remick (Gregory Peck’s wife in The Omen) as Grace Gardner, his feisty boss.
The set-up is intriguing enough. The pressure of a return to the public eye provokes a scandal in Bogarde’s private life that his wife (Eileen Atkins) and daughter find hard to accept. However, Bogarde feels he is being used as a pawn in Remick’s game, and that the TV show he is part of is simply a front for shadier aims that the broadcasters have. The Vision wants to be Edge of Darkness, and it wants to be Network, and it wants to earn its place amongst those giants of TV and film by throwing in a conspiracy about religious broadcasters (even though they’re always clearly money-driven loons anyway). In the end, it falls short of its inspirations and its aspirations. William Nicholson (a fine writer – he created Shadowlands for the stage and wrote the screenplay for Gladiator) doesn’t have the wit in monologue form to rival Paddy Chayefsky, nor the incisiveness and originality of Troy Kennedy Martin.
The result is a solid, entertaining, reasonably well-written television drama that sustains over one hundred minutes without ever really shocking or surprising its audience. Unsettling, certainly. Incisive? Not as much as it should be. The selling point here is the historical interest. Not only was Dirk Bogarde’s acting career almost over, but so too, tragically, was Lee Remick’s. She died only a few years later from cancer, and far too young. Whilst The Vision came near the end of the two leads’ illustrious careers, it paved the way for the international star that Helena Bonham Carter would soon afterwards become.
A real curate’s egg. An interesting piece of 1980s nostalgia – but the verdict is – enjoy the fine performances, because the drama doesn’t quite get into the higher gears.
Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Lee Remick, Helena Bonham Carter, Eileen Atkins, Lynda Bellingham Director: Norman Stone Writer: William Nicholson Certificate: 12 Duration: 100 mins Released By: Network Release Date: 12th June 2017