Appellate Judge James A. Stewart says novocaine works best if you want to keep a stiff upper lip.
"It's all for the boy. He's my sheet anchor."—dedicated father Stephen Sorrell
"I belong to my father. He's such a pal to me. We understand each other."—devoted son Kit Sorrell
Sorrell and Son is the third version of Warwick Deeping's 1925 novel, in which a war hero returns to England and finds he must keep a stiff upper lip to brave the postwar world and provide for his son.
Facts of the Case
As Sorrell and Son opens in April 1921, ex-Army Capt. Stephen Sorrell (Richard Pasco, The Watcher in the Woods) is on a train with son Kit (Paul Critchley), heading for Staunton. There, Sorrell's got a job lined up as assistant to an antiques dealer. It'll change his luck, since he's unemployed and his wife has left him. When he arrives, though, the antiques dealer has just died, leaving Sorrell stranded, out of money, and out of luck.
Sorrell makes the best of things by taking a job as porter at the Angel Hotel, run by the domineering Florence Palfrey (Stephanie Beacham, Dynasty). Sorrell takes a dislike to Mrs. Palfrey when she sacks a maid for "romping."
Meanwhile, Sorrell meets a well-heeled customer (John Shrapnel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age) who offers him a better job—as second porter at a posher hotel, the Pelican. The job is good, but the hotelier is having trouble getting customers, and the arrival of head porter Buck (Edward Peel, Shogun) to take abusive charge turns Sorrell into a "cart horse."
As the years go on, Kit (now played by Peter Chelsom, Indian Summer) goes to Cambridge and becomes a surgeon, while his father moves up in the world and his mother attempts to regain his devotion.
With the first two episodes of Sorrell and Son opening with Stephen and Kit on a train, seeking out greener pastures, I suspected that those greener pastures would remain forever out of reach, with each episode opening with another glimmer of hope that becomes dashed.
I was wrong, of course. The end of the second episode finds Stephen moving up to head porter, and things keep getting better from there. The leads are likable, so I didn't begrudge them their blooming successes, but the he-has-grit-so-he'll-always-win-out school of storytelling doesn't exactly make for exciting drama.
What you get, most of the way through, is an amiable, if meandering, portrait of a decent, hardworking young man rising in post-World War I Britain—with a lot of help with his father. Richard Pasco's Stephen has his excesses—Does he actually have to furnish and decorate Kit's first house?—but for the most part, he embodies the idealized portrait of the dedicated parent who wants to see his offspring do well, even in tough times. Both actors playing Kit fare well, too, although there's a personality gap between the quiet child and the self-assured adult. The relationship between the father and son seems authentic, even though the storyline doesn't.
Stephen's "all or nothing" attitude toward his son's career—he won't settle for his son becoming a general practitioner when he could become a surgeon—plays a role in the crises both Kit and Stephen face in the final episode; the resolution to Kit's problem is too melodramatic, leaving Stephen's story as the one with emotional resonance.
The story about the bonding between a man and his son doesn't leave much room for depth in the female characters. Most of the male characters leave an impression, but only Stephanie Beacham as the tyrannical hotel boss in the first episode and Sarah Neville as Molly, a feminist writer who catches Kit's eye, find much to work with in their meager material.
The picture quality isn't great. You'll find fading, grain, and lines and spots, as is common with older British dramas. The sound is serviceable—you don't lose lines—but that's about it.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Sorrell and Son is definitely melodramatic, leaving a mixed bag dramatically, but with divorce more prevalent in modern society, it may be a more modern tale than it appears at first glance.
It appears that the faults in Sorrell and Son lie in Warwick Deeping's original novel. The attention to period detail (although I did notice that the story continues through 1935, even though it was published in 1925) and the strong leads make the TV version work well enough, although they can't quite turn it into a great work.
There's insufficient wrongdoing to convict, but many of you will find it a snorer.
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