The Scapegoat (2012)

  • Year: 2012
  • Released: 18 Oct 2012
  • Country: United Kingdom
  • Adwords: 1 nomination
  • IMDb:
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  • Available in: 720p, 1080p,
  • Language: English
  • MPA Rating: Not Rated
  • Genre: Drama
  • Runtime: 108 min
  • Writer: Daphne Du Maurier, Charles Sturridge
  • Director: Charles Sturridge
  • Cast: Matthew Rhys, Eileen Atkins, Anton Lesser
  • Keywords: coronation,

The Scapegoat Storyline

As England is preparing for the coronation of Elizabeth II, schoolmaster John Standing (Matthew Rhys) comes face to face with Johnny Spence (Matthew Rhys), his exact double in appearance. After a night of drinking, Standing awakes to find Spence has stolen his identity. Unsuccessful at explaining the unusual situation, Standing settles into the vacancy left by Johnny Spence. Yet with his new life comes numerous problems, including trying to juggle a wife and two mistresses and family secrets that could prove to be deadly.—L. Hamre

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The Scapegoat Movie Reviews

A superior version to the original screen adaptation, redolent with atmosphere

I have read the original novel by Daphne du Maurier and seen the earlier film version (1959) three times, most recently in order to remind myself of what our very dear friend Annabel Bartlett looked like as a child (she played the little girl, her only film role). One thing she told me about Alec Guinness, who played the double-lead roles, was that he became fond of her during the filming and remained in affectionate contact with her for the rest of his life, which says a great deal about his character. This remake by the talented director Charles Sturridge, who also wrote the screenplay, is in my opinion superior to the original film. We are all used to remakes being inferior, and groaning when we hear there is going to be another one (for instance, no remake of du Maurier’s classic REBECCA has ever been anything but a travesty of Hitchcock’s original film with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine), but in this case, everyone can be proud of the result. In this version, the setting of the story is shifted from France to the England of 1952/3, which is an effective change, and enabled Sturridge (best known for directing the original TV series of BRIDESHEAD REVISITED, 1981), to exploit his familiarity with aristocratic English settings of the early to mid 20th century. Another innovation in the story is the amusing sub-plot of the insertion into the grand mansion of a newfangled electronic device known as a television, received and treated with great ceremony. The scene where the entire family sit, with their servants standing behind them, watching the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, is impeccably authentic and evocative, as indeed the whole film is. Therefore, the changes made to the story for this screen adaptation are, I believe, entirely successful. A very clever choice for the double-lead was the actor Matthew Rhys. He is not someone you would notice when walking past him on the street, but he is arresting when in action on the screen, and here he does an excellent job of playing two entirely different characters who happen to be identical doppelgängers (or one might today say clones) of one another. The story is a typically romantic mystery tale by du Maurier, of two men who meet by chance one night and realize that they look exactly like one another. This leads to their changing places, so that the recently sacked schoolteacher with no family or attachments is left in the morning with only the clothes and identity of his ‘twin’, who turns out to be a prominent aristocrat with a mansion, a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce, a wife, and a substantial squabbling family, even in fact a little girl. All of these the true husband and father abandons, leaving the teacher to assume his role as best he can. Needless to say, his family find him strangely changed, kinder, more considerate, and wonder ‘what has come over him’. He has to learn on the hoof who he ‘is’, how to find his own bedroom, discovers that he has a mistress in the town, is alarmed to discover that he has been having an affair with his brother’s wife and finds her difficult to shake off, cloying and demanding as she is. At the same time, the family business is going broke and he is expected to save it. His sister (the wonderfully weird Jodhi May, one of my favourite actresses because she is so unlike other people and seems to emerge from some tormented dimension of another hologram than ours) is estranged from him and takes every opportunity to insult him. His little girl is dejected from lack of his attention. This story is not a naturalistic tale, though it is treated as one, since it is difficult to imagine all of this really happening, even back in those days when identities were not yet shrink-wrapped. But it is an intriguing and captivating romance, with what the trendies at the BBC like to call ‘a great deal of edge to it’. One welcome new addition to the screen is the young actress Alice Orr-Ewing, not long out of drama school. She had a minor role in A FANTASTIC FEAR OF EVERYTHING (2012, see my review), but her scenes all ended up on the cutting room floor, so she does not list it in her credits. This is therefore her first significant screen appearance. She glows well on celluloid, and manages to capture the viewer’s attention despite playing a feeble character, the lead character’s wife Frances, with whom one would normally have very little sympathy, because feeble women are always so annoying. But she makes the character have a deeper dimension, so that we end up liking her rather than being exasperated by her. Also this actress has an after-taste, like a good burgundy. There is no doubt that Alice Orr-Ewing was born to appear in period dramas, as she is an ethereal creature of another era, and has a genuine Joan Fontaine quality about her. Long may she keep her Orr in. The art direction of this film is superb, the costumes are splendid, it all looks luscious, and the improbable tale is strangely gripping. And as Louis B. Mayer might have said, it even has a Western Union, I mean a message, of sorts that is, namely who are we anyway?

Loved it

I liked this “Scapegoat” from 2012 better than the 1959 version, though they are both good. This one is warmer and I love the message the maid gives John at the end.

Set in England of 1952 at the time of the Coronation (changed from France) John and Johnny (Matthew Rhys) meet by accident and are both shocked – they look exactly alike. John has been let go from his teaching position and is on a walking tour; Johnny comes from big money and is dreading going home. John gets drunk and when he wakes up in the morning, all his things are gone and in their place are all of Johnny’s things. A chauffeur arrives to pick him up and John reluctantly goes along. When he gets to this huge estate, he tries to tell the various people in the house that he’s not Johnny, but no one listens. So he becomes Johnny.

John learns a few things about Johnny. He has a wife (Alice Ewing-Orr) and a child (Eloise Webb). He’s sleeping with his sister-in-law (Jodhi May) and a woman in the village (Sylvie Testud); his sister (Sheridan Smith) loathes him; his mother (Eileen Atkins) is a morphine addict and he is to have brought her more; and his brother (Andrew Scott) is in his shadow. And he has been away to settle a contract dispute with their foundry’s biggest client.

John, however, being much more sensitive and sober than Johnny, realizes something else: This is a wonderful family that, like the family’s business, is in desperate need of some love and attention. Unfortunately, when Johnny returns under cover of darkness for his own nefarious reasons, he doesn’t like it when he realizes that John has completely taken over and decides to re-enter the family and take care of business.

Wonderful story, well acted by all involved, particularly Matthew Rhys in the dual role as the gentle John and the aggressive Johnny, who is only out for himself. At the end, his mother’s nursemaid (Phoebe Nichols) has some words of wisdom. I love the ending.

Very entertaining. Don’t dwell on how unrealistic it is. Lots of things are. Enjoy it for what it is.

The magic creeps up on you…

The premise is, of course, completely absurd. Is it really possible that any two unrelated strangers could look so much alike that not even a mistress, wife, or mother could spot the difference? Well, no. But the feeling here is not of absurdity, but rather whimsy. The story maintains a pose of realism even as it verges into the fantastic.

So don’t expect one of those thrillers with a water-tight plot and gritty realism. This is a story about wish-fulfillment and the freedom of discovering in yourself a whole new set of possibilities. It’s also about thinking of your life as it might look from the outside, as viewed by a stranger taking your place; what would he see that you’re missing? Count your blessings, you fool!

Lovely performances by all, but especially Matthew Rhys in the lead role.

The magic in this movie creeps up on you slowly, and is not fully felt until the very end. The sum of the movie is more than its parts. Director-writer Charles Sturridge has done this before (the Brideshead Revisited original TV series, A Handful of Dust) and here he does it again. Bravo!