There’s double trouble afoot after a man meets his doppelganger…
An unemployed school teacher is mistaken for his lookalike, a monied man with a complicated work, family and love life in this Daphne Du Maurier adaptation.
The Scapegoat (2012) Trailer, IslandPicturesFilmTV
As a kid many of us will have watched that film, TV show or TV Movie with that well known trope where a character has an exact lookalike and the pair swap places leading to more complications of the more dramatic or comic kind. These plot lines seen and enjoyed in films such as The Prince and the Pauper (1962), The Parent Trap (1961), Dave (1993) and the TV Mini Series Deceptions (1985). These telling reunited identical twin girls, a man being a stand in for his critically ill US President lookalike and finding love with your identical twin sister’s husband and other schenanigans (with a Pointer Sisters title track) respectively.
But what if, after meeting your lookalike, you woke up to find they’d stolen your clothes and your wallet. You only discover this after you were mistaken for them by someone who knows your double. This is the premise of one of the most enthralling and thrilling movies I’ve seen, in the 2006 adaptation of the Daphne Du Maurier tale, The Scapegoat (2012). This film has Matthew Rhys in a double role, supported by a sterling cast of British lovelies.
The story outlines fictional events in England, 1952 as Britain prepares for the coronation of the soon to be Queen Elizabeth II. The women of the aristocratic Spence family are excited as a mysterious box is delivered to their palatial stately home. This is revealed to be a TV, which the housemaid and nurse, Charlotte (Phoebe Nicholls) dismisses as “the work of the devil”. Meanwhile John Standing (Matthew Rhys), a teacher is down in his luck as he is dismissed as his job as a Greek language teacher at a prestigious boy’s school. He tells his young pupils he now plans to go on a walking trip.
En route, Standing hits the bar, and then becomes confused when the barman tells him his room is ready and gives him some change. Whilst at the bar, Standing notices his double image, a man later revealed as Johnny Spence (also Matthew Rhys). The men meet in the washroom and both are shocked by their mirror image looks.
The men return to the bar, talk more and gain a rapport, finding out they couldn’t be more different. Standing is a poor but university educated man from Wales. Spence from the apparently rich English aristocratic family we met earlier. The recently unemployed, Standing is near alone in the world with only a maiden aunt. Spence envies him and tells of Standing he’s away on family business from his insufferable family.
The morning after Standing wakes up nursing a hangover. Spence has gone and has taken Standing’s wallet, identity and coat. A chauffeur (Pip Torrens) arrives to collect Spence, and Standing mistaken for Spence. After Standing fails to convince the chauffeur he’s not who he thinks he is, the chauffeur says he’ll drive him home . Standing sleeps for the journey to wake up at the Spences’ home. After failing to make right the mix up with Spence’s family, Standing goes along with the situation. Standing slowly pieces together Spence’s current situation in love, life and business.
The family are keen to hear on his business trip. Standing (as Spence) indirectly suggests that a contract signed to save their family home and their company’s employees jobs. With Spence’s family and employees overjoyed, he saved their failing business, a glass foundry. We learn that Spence is known as the prodigal son to his bed bound, pain killer dependent mother Lady Spence (Eileen Atkins) and hated by his sister Blanche (Jodhi May) for some (then) unknown reason.
In time, Spence revealed as a nasty piece of work and this learnt through comments, reactions and the behaviour of his family and others as they believe he is Spence. Spence’s wife, Frances (Alice Orr-Ewing) is nervy, unconfident and scared of his temper, his young daughter Mary Lou (Eloise Webb) is desperate for his attention and he has two mistresses (with one of these women his sister in law, Nina (Sheridan Smith)). On Standing meeting Spence’s other mistress Bela (Sylvie Testud) by chance on a trip to town, she notices a change in personality of her lover. However she and Standing get on so great they deepen the relationship and they make love. Standing also indirectly convinces Spence’s unappreciated brother, Paul (Andrew Scott) and the family priest (Anton Lesser) he is Spence. But not the family dog.
Standing warms to and then grows to love and respect Spence’s family and both his mistresses. This reciprocated due to “Spence”‘s genuineness, kindness and honesty. These are all qualities that the real Spence apparently does not possess. However the family and his mistresses who continue to be unaware of “Spence”‘s true identity, change their views on this new “Spence” accordingly. Standing spends time and gets attached to Mary Lou and encourages Lady Spence not to depend on her morphine injections and spend time outdoors and with her family.
We learn Spence married Frances, who in time will inherit a large amount of money. She will get this money only if she gives a male heir before she turns 50, or this money will go to her husband should she die before this. However over time Standing (as Spence) opens up to her on family matters, and this leading to a closer and loving relationship between them. This love leads to Standing kissing her one night, and her responding to her “husband”. This same night, a familiar face is seen to return to his family home and greeted enthusiastically by his dog. We discover it’s Spence as this man looks in on his wife, to see her sleeping peacefully in Standing’s embrace. The next morning Spence’s pistol is observed to be missing before the Spence brothers go on a fox hunt…
As much as I’d love to tell you the rest of of this story, but I won’t (and please no spoilers in my comments for those who haven’t seen this yet). Through Standing’s ignorance of Spence’s current circumstances, he (and we) learns more of his doppelganger. We piece together Johnny Spence’s true reality and learn more about his complex character. This giving more meaning to the films title in that you wonder just how much of his failings he’ll blame Standing for on his return. But will say that this story leads to nail biting moments, more than a few tears (if you sob at movies like I do) as there’s more more twists and turns in the tale. The story, I believe has an enigmatic ending.
Although I haven’t read the novel or seen the 1959 film, I’ve read more on both and seen the trailer for this version of the story. Du Maurier reportedly insisted on Alec Guinness for the dual role, as opposed to Cary Grant who had been originally chosen. This as Guinness reminded her of her father, an actor. Daphne Du Maurier was also reportedly on set for this 1959 movie, and was unhappy and pointed out her perceived deviations in the plot from her novel. I’m wondering how she would have felt about this interpretation. This as the setting, some important plotlines and the ending changed, (but I believe for the better).
For this wonderful captivating movie, the film setting was Knebworth House. Knebworth House is a familiar English film location of many a period drama from film and TV or pop concert. This setting adding to the plot as Standing orientates himself to his new (but assumed by others familiar) surroundings and in this we learn more of Spence’s relationships with his family.
This film was one which held my attention throughout and I recommend it if you want a period mystery tale with crime, romance and suspense elements. Watching it I became involved with this story, through those credible moving performances from all the cast. Each character from this dysfunctional family developed and grew as Standing “joined” their family. All responding to his character positively and in unexpected ways.
Rhys in his double role was initially sympathetic in both roles with Spence not having the insight into understanding his actions on his family and appreciating their needs. With these immediately seen by the outsider, Standing as he took over this role as he unintentionally improved their lives. As we learned more on Spence, he was seen as manipulative, cruel and uncaring to all the others in his life. Rhys showed these men’s contrasting differences. With Standing he showed him as a gentle, trustworthy, caring side to this honest man with everyone from Spence’s child his mistresses. Spence with a different accent, arrogance and air was both a bounder and a cad. When Spence returned to the plot, I was apprehensive on the final outcome knowing more about his character and hearing much more about him.
i felt the ending was ambiguous – although others suggest differently – with my possibly unique ending made. This role surely gave Rhys, a perfect double act, standing him in good stead for his future dual leading acting role in The Americans (2013-18). This show set in Cold War America him one of two married sleeper Russian Spies posing as American citizens, with his now real life wife, Keri Russell playing his on-screen wife. Their young family unaware of their parents’ true identities, and this family also with a neighbour working for the CIA. I read that Rhys and his on and off screen wife even dined at a State Dinner. This with a US President and a Prime Minister, which certainly gives your imagination food for thought.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: /10
Hulk Rating: /10
Bonus Trailer: Yes, the 1959 trailer
The Scapegoat (1959) Official Trailer – Alec Guiness, Bette Davis Crime Movie HD, Movieclips Classic Trailers
This post was added to Pale Writer 2′s The Calls of Cornwall: The Daphne du Maurier Blogathon. Other reviews with this cast include Matthew Rhys in Archer and my Hotties post. Anton Lesser in The Crown, Wolf Hall and Miss Potter. Pip Torrens in Star Wars VII : The Force Awakens, Doctor Who and The Crown.