Appellate Judge James A. Stewart says paradise has only been delayed on account of rain.
"I still don't know what on Earth you can possibly see in him."
John Mortimer will be forever known for creating Horace Rumpole, the Old Bailey hack who hung out in Pommeroy's wine bar and tried not to run afoul of "She Who Must Be Obeyed," his wife Hilda. However, Mortimer had a long career of writing novels and television dramas. I'd heard of Paradise Postponed, but hadn't seen it before; I believe the 1986 serial hit TV screens here while I was in college. Acorn Media packages the original with a sequel for Paradise Postponed/Titmuss Regained.
Facts of the Case
As Paradise Postponed begins, brothers Fred (Paul Shelley, A Tale of Two Cities) and Henry Simcox (Peter Egan, Chariots of Fire) have learned that their father Simeon (Michael Hordren, Gandhi) left his estate to politician Leslie Titmuss (David Threlfall, Elizabeth: The Golden Age). Henry says his father must have been mad and challenges the will, but Fred wants to know the truth. The story of the Simcoxes and Leslie Titmuss plays out, flashing between the past and present, over eleven episodes on four discs:
• "Death of a Saint"
• "The Temptation of Henry Simcox"
• "Chez Titmuss"
• "Living in the Past"
• "The Wrongs of Man"
• "The Last Leader"
• "And a Happy New Year to You, Too!"
• "Enigma Variations"
• "The Gods of the Copy Book Headings"
• "Faith Unfaithful"
• "The Simcox Inheritance"
Titmuss Regained tells the story of Leslie Titmuss' romance with Jenny Sidonia (Kristin Scott Thomas, Confessions of a Shopaholic) in three chapters on one disc:
• "And The Next Day…"
A serial full of flashbacks that give viewers clues to a long-hidden secret, Paradise Postponed could seem familiar and modern to viewers today, who are used to story arcs, backstory, and serial plotting. The pacing, of course, is slower. Aside from momentarily making the picture look like an old photo as the story moves into the past, there's nothing in the way of flashy tricks. There's a lot of soap opera to it, since the story is full of adultery and machinations. There's also a sense that John Mortimer might be commenting on a generation, particularly as Henry Simcox starts out with the socialist idealism of his father Simeon, but becomes more conservative as he falls prey to success as a writer.
Three well-drawn characters make Paradise Postponed worth a look. Michael Hordren's parson Simeon Simcox lives well off his brewery shares as he works socialist views into Christmas sermons and constantly attends protests. He seems ineffectual as a father, giving platitudes but really trying not to know too much about his sons' relationships. While Henry's evolution seems predictable, his brother Fred gradually develops a backbone and conscience. Early on, he's pushing an unwanted abortion on girlfriend Agnes, sending her into the arms of his brother; later, he's a sympathetic friend as she breaks off with Henry and copes with her father's death. He's also against Henry's attempts to prove Simeon crazy in order to collect the inheritance, and decides to conduct his own investigation into family secrets.
The character who evolves the most, however, may be Leslie Titmuss. As a boy, he's the hard worker who cuts nettles on the Simcox estate as Henry writes and Fred practices the drums. When he first attends a Young Conservatives meeting, he's awkward, his cheap clothes getting laughs from the wealthy youths around him. He seeths with anger after being pushed into the river, but he continues resolutely with his chosen course. Titmuss is nervous when he gives his first speech at a party meeting, but sounds heartfelt and manages to win over the attendees. As he grows in confidence, he grows into a cold, conniving person, tricking his way into Parliament, filling with self-righteous anger as he talks with Fred about the inheritance, and feeling nothing at the end of his marriage. There's caricature in him—David Threlfall seems to have only two expressions for Titmuss, either about to cry or in a permanent scowl—but Mortimer and Threlfall make a real person out of the standard heartless politician.
The flashback gimmick wears thin over eleven chapters; toupees and makeup don't really hide an actor's real age. At times I wished Mortimer had done a shorter version, maybe six episodes, with only a few choice trips backwards in time. Still, there are moments when the author's wit and irony shine through.
I liked Titmuss Regained better than the original. Aside from its shorter length and faster pace, it focuses more on the character of Leslie Titmuss and the people around him and less on soap opera and the epic sweep of time. It's also more human, thanks to Titmuss' relationship with Jenny Sidonia. The perpetually sour Titmuss even shows a believable smile once in a while around her. As with many a sequel, it echoes the original—both Charlotte and Jenny fall for the man who's vulnerable as he's being humiliated, both wives take a political interest that could hurt Titmuss' career, and someone conducts a potentially damaging inquiry in both stories—but in Titmuss, Mortimer uses the similar events to explore the characters rather than simply furthering the story. It also helps that viewers see Titmuss through the fresh, sympathetic eyes of Kristin Scott Thomas' Jenny Sidonia, a widow who likes the sense of humor that the aging Titmuss has developed and sees the wounded young man who got dumped in the river under all his actions. Under her influence, Titmuss is also changing; he's aware that Jenny didn't like the corsage he bought her, and he's willing to take an interest in opera, something he has avoided for years. Titmuss also gives the senior minister a conniving junior minister who makes Titmuss look decent, at least by comparison. Watching Titmuss spar with the young scoundrel also reveals a political savvy the awkward young man didn't have when we first saw him in Paradise Postponed.
The picture is typical for British miniseries from the 1980s and 1990s, with fading, flecks, and lines. The newer Titmuss looks better, of course. The box indicates that some music has been changed; I'm not sure exactly where the changes were made, but I have a feeling that the Beatles-ish canned instrumental over a Sixties music festival might have been a Beatles tune or some other iconic Sixties song in the original version.
As for extras, there's a text bio of John Mortimer and cast filmographies for the principal players.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The saga gets better as it goes along, but you could be lost in the glacially moving 79-minute opener, "Death of a Saint." Introducing a sprawling story and a lot of characters, it has to pump you full of info, and you may lose track of a couple of characters here and there. While Titmuss Regained is pitch-perfect and could be watched alone, it pays off more if you've seen Paradise Postponed.
Acorn Media was wise to put Paradise Postponed and Titmuss Regained into one set; the stories are best watched together. The slow serial pacing and generational commentary on Paradise might put off some viewers, but then they'd miss the delight that is Regained in the rare sequel that tops and enhances the original. While I'll have to admit that hanging out at Pommeroy's with Rumpole is a lot more fun, Leslie Titmuss is also an character who will be hard to forget.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
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