The Primrose Pathologist

Peter Vaughan (left) with Nicholas Selby.

For 20p I managed to pick up a disintegrating old green Penguin paperback of Bernard Spilsbury, his life and cases, by Douglas G Browne and E V Tullett, which, seeing as how I’m addicted to biographies of forensic pathologists (Mostly Murder is tops in this field) and true crime, especially long-ago true crime, was what I’d call a bargain.

This one has regular occurrences of phrases like “the grisly luggage” and “pieces of boiled flesh.” Chapter 8 is entitled Unpleasant things on the Crumbles. If Edward Gorey had a copy of this, I bet the pages are stuck together.

There’s movie relevance, fear not: Spilsbury worked on the Crippen case, referenced on this blog, and ~

In Chapter 7, The Armstrong Case, deals with the poisoning lawyer whose story was adapted for television by writer Michael Chaplin and director Mike Hodges as Dandelion Dead. I emailed Mike the following sentence ~

“Armstrong shared with many small men, and others of various sizes, a characteristic attributed to all murderers.” (Egotism, since you’re wondering.) Mike is compactly built and I thought he’d be amused.

He informed me that Spilsbury, (“possibly the ideal name for a pathologist?”) suavely played in Dandelion Dead by Nicholas Selby, was nearly portrayed by John Osborne, who had already appeared for Hodges in GET CARTER and, if you can believe it, FLASH GORDON. But alas, he got sick and died not long after.

Michael Kitchen is taken from this place to another place.

I recommend DD to you all, since it’s exquisitely written, unfolding with a slow, dreadful creep, crisply directed by Mr. Hodges in a classical style that eschews ornament and perfectly compliments the subtlety of the writing, and stars Michael Kitchen, one of the greatest British actors alive and one of the least appreciated, outside of his homeland anyway. Sarah Miles and David Thewlis are quite brilliant in support, making nominally unsympathetic figures terribly unsympathetic. The DVD unaccountably preserves big gaps where the commercial breaks once lived, but is otherwise exemplary.

It can be purchased here ~

Dandelion Dead [DVD]

13 Responses to “The Primrose Pathologist”

  1. I was very happy to see this excellent little turn from Blackadder’s dad here

  2. Beautiful.

    Glad to see I’m not the only one who sees Kitchen’s turn as Edmund in Jonathan Miller’s TV King Lear as the progenitor of Rowan Atkinson’s performance in Blackadder II. Has this ever been publicly acknowledged?

  3. I find the brilliant Mike Hodges friendship with the loathesome John Osborne utterly fascinating.

  4. He must’ve had some kind of charm in person… maybe it’s only his writing, and particularly his memoirs, that shows that unpleasantness. He certainly was good at exuding it onscreen, he’s memorably nasty in Get Carter.

  5. That wasn’t acting. That was Osborne being Osborne.

    He was a snotty little creep who thought he was taking on “The Establishment” — as represented by Noel Coward and Terence Rattigan — in Look Back in Anger. IN HIS DREAMS!

    Alan Bennett’s The History Boys is among other things a delightful bitch-slapping of Osborne and his ilk. The REAL “anti-establishment” figure was of course Joe Orton — a fact Rattigan himself recognized when he praised Ortons’ Entertaining Mr. Sloane. He knew he witnessing the brith of something truly new.

    Osborne, meanwhile, was busy treating his lovers, of both sexes, like shit.

    He was the Christopher Hitchens of his day.

  6. Tony Williams Says:

    David C, I agree with you over DD and Michael Kitchen known to PBS viewers over here for his role in FOYLE’S WAR. DD is the type of Mike Hodges film that shows how versatile a director he really is far transcending GET CARTER (good as that film is). Perhaps one reason why Kitchen has not received the acclaim he really deserves is because he is a versatile chameleon actor who inserts himself into every role he plays and does not exhibit an identifiable star charisma easy to detect. In other words, he is an actor in the true sense of the word.

  7. Tony Williams Says:

    David E, I’ve heard similar nasty tales about John Osborne but his performance in David Mercer’s 1960s television play THE PARACHUTE is really good. This would be another example of a collaboration that could be regarded as “utterly fascinating” considering the different politics of both. However, Mercer also had his own problems.

  8. He did indeed. But he write Morgan and Providence.

  9. Mercer, like Kitchen, was a TV megatalent largely ignored by cinema. Good job Resnais was paying attention. He’s been extraordinarily attentive to the British writers our filmmakers forgot. See also his Ayckbourne adaptations and Dennis Potter riff.

    I agree that Kitchen is somewhat harder to define, and gets by without a “persona”, but he’s MISTER CHARISMA. And he does it so gently.

    I certainly prefer Orton to Osborne, but I guess it was necessary for Osborne to pave the way. If Orton had burst on the scene without preparation, the British public would have died of outrage.

  10. And that would have been a bad thing?

    Osborne though the curtain rising on a squalid kitchen with Anti-Hero, Wifey and His Boyfriend was going to have them all quivering in the stalls. But it’s just another drawing room item, really. Who today can look at Look Back in Anger without expecting “Cliff” (Osborne’s mistreated lover Anthony Creighton) to jump up and yell “Anyone for tennis?”

  11. It did seem very much a period piece when I last saw it (with David Tennant and my chum Steven McNicoll). The shock moments involved the dated attitudes and prejudices. Whereas Orton can still shock by his modernity, even though his stuff is spectacularly of its time.

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