The “stranger comes to town” trope has been used time and again in movies. Anything from the classic HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1974) to the brain-melting VISITOR Q (2001) uses the unknown person to fill in for anything from a Christ figure to a demonic presence. What makes BRIMSTONE & TREACLE (1982) different? A decent cast including Sting who may or may not be the Devil.
Sting plays Martin who stumbles into the lives of the Bates family. He claims to be an old friend of their daughter’s. They can’t verify this because their teenage daughter Patricia was the victim of a hit-and-run accident which has left her a nonverbal invalid. For years her mother, Norma, has spent every waking moment taking care of her needs while ignoring her own. The father, Tom, ignores everyone’s needs but his own. He spends his day at his office working and having a strange affair with his milquetoast secretary. According to Martin, he was in love with Patty and even proposed marriage. Having been overseas for years he just learned of her condition and wants to make it up to her by taking over the caretaking tasks. Norma is immediately in favor of this. Tom takes some winning over (which Martin eventually does by appealing to his xenophobic nature). While the parents are looking at Martin as the answer to all their prayers (and Patty unable to say otherwise), the audience realizes that if something is too good to be true, it probably is.
This is a Dennis Potter scripted movie so we know it’s not going to end well. A while ago I featured a different movie he wrote, SCHMOEDIPUS, about someone who may or may not be the ghost of a baby given up for adoption two decades prior. BRIMSTONE & TREACLE is just as uplifting. Potter tried adapting this story for BBC’s “Play For Today” series six years prior, but it had been banned from transmission due to being “repugnant.” This version was slightly toned down. Unfortunately that also made a few plot holes and leaves the viewer feeling like there was something they missed along the way.
The cast does a fine job with what their lines. Veteran English actors Denholm Elliot and Joan Plowright do a fine and believable job as the put upon parents. Sting was in his prime as a suave young man and perfect for the sinister role. The biggest surprise was Suzanna Hamilton as Patricia. She barely uttered more than a few moans and grunts and never left the bed, yet she was able to communicate such distress that the audience wonders why no one heard her.
It’s not my favorite Potter film, but it’s just weird enough to add a little flavor to your Friday night:
Question of the night: do you have a favorite 80s pop singer/band?