Our rating: 5 out of 5
Once again BBC screen writer Andrew Davies get it right with a classic adaptation, this time from Anthony Trollope’s masterpiece. An innocent wife, a jealous husband, a notorious ladies man, an indecisive vicar, a pair of “French” sisters, a lowly born but lovely girl, an elderly aunt, a consummate gentleman, a poor journalist, a private detective, an American lady, and a woman in love. These are the main characters that make up one of Anthony Trollope’s greatest novels, aptly named He Knew He Was Right.
When Louis Trevelyan (Oliver Dimsdale) meets Emily Rowley (Laura Fraser), daughter of Sir Marmaduke Rowley (the island’s governor), on a trip to the Mandarin Islands, he falls madly in love: Emily and her parents consent to a marriage (she has some say: after all, she has been raised in the free ways of the tropics). They marry, honeymoon, and even have a child in a first few years of complete and utter bliss in London, with Emily’s sister Nora in accompaniment. All is fine until insecure Louis begins to suspect that Emily is having an affair with old family friend and her godfather, Colonel Osborne (Bill Nighy), a notorious ladies man who has a penchant for married women. Emily has received him alone in her London home (she is unaware of the dangers of London society, being both beautiful and independent), and gossip begins to circulate that something is going on. When Louis confronts Emily she denies that anything is going on or has ever happened. He forbids her to ever see Osborne again and she refuses: she professes her complete innocence and her complete love of Louis, but does not see why she should promise not to see Osborne and in so doing admit wrong.
Louis is angry and doesn’t believe her: he thinks she’s lying, covering up, shameful and deceitful. He would forgive her, but only if she admitted she had done him wrong. Emily refuses. Emily and Nora are sent by Louis to live with his best friend Hugh’s mother Mrs. Stanbury and his sister Priscilla. Mrs. Stanbury is widow of the late vicar, with daughters Priscilla and Martha (who is later sent to live with her elderly rich Aunt Stanbury), and son Hugh. Others characters include: Camilla and Arabella French, who both wish to marry the local minister, Reverend Gibson; Hugh Stanmore, a poor journalist and Louis’ best friend; Charles Glascock, a soon-to-be titled gentleman who has fallen for a certain lady; Brooke Burgess, Aunt Stanbury’s heir who falls for a woman himself; Caroline and Olivia Spalding, adventuresome sisters from America; and last but not least, a sleazy private detective named Bozzle. All these and more create a volatile setting for a few different love triangles of ultimate rejection, supposed “betrayal,” and true love.
There is much spoken of in the way of a supposed affair between a married woman and an unmarried man, but there is never anything shown. There are a few mild profanities, some vacillating of people between who they will marry, and a not-quite flattering portrayal of a local minister. A little boy is kidnapped, a young lady defies her parents to marry, a woman threatens violence to others when she doesn’t get her way (she will stab them all; a slight tussle occurs at one point), engagement made and broken are tossed left and right. A man is driven to madness and despair by his own imagination. Louis spends the entire time, obsessed with the idea that Emily has committed adultery with Colonel Osborne: he lets it take over his thoughts, actions, health and life in general. But when all is said and done and the dust finally settles on this play of life, will Louis finally believe his lovely wife Emily is as innocent as she claims? You may wonder what ultimately happens...after all, HE knew HE was right...