Asmodée 1959

 

Producer: Harold Clayton

Writer: François Mauriac (play) Basil Bartlett (translation)

Rôle: Blaise Lebel

Broadcast: 9 June 1959 BBC

 

Synopsis: Marcelle de Barthas is young French widow, who since her husband’s death some seven years previously, has lived a secluded life in her country house, with her four children. The eldest one, Emmy, is a beautiful and pure young girl of seventeen, who tentatively believes she has a calling to the religious life. The second child, Bertrand, aged fifteen, has been sent to England for an exchange holiday with a young English boy, Harry Fanning, and when the play opens, the French children are excitedly awaiting his arrival. Also living with the family is a French governess, and a tutor, Blaise Lebel. Lebel has a sombre power over the family, and it is the ‘intrusion’ of Harry that sets in motion in him a wave of resentment and fear.

Comment: The first play of the celebrated French novelist had an outstanding success on BBC Television in 1953. It is a fascinating study of personal relationships and emotional conflicts within a family. 

Reviews:

 

The Times 10 June 1959

 

"The production of Asmodée, by François Mauriac, on B.B.C. television last night triumphantly exploited the limitations of the medium through a fluent production by Mr. Harold Clayton that concentrated on the people it concerned. Once we had seen the de Barthas home in Mr. Richard Wilmot’s luxurious settings, the camera clung eloquently to the people inside it. M. Mauriac asks us to accept a household the emotional state of which is far away from conventional dynamic stresses and depends on his actors to see that the audience is carried into the tensions of an unusual quality of life.

Miss Helen Cherry’s Mother, and Mr. Marius Goring’s dominating, self-tormenting Tutor made the camera’s extreme attentiveness profitable. The less complex personalities, Miss Pamela Buck as the dedicated Daughter and Miss Maureen Pryor as the Governess, have a simpler task; it is easier to create sympathy with love awakening and love abandoned than with complexities and ambivalences of feeling, and rarely have we watched a television play more deeply concerned about the fate of its people.

We could, however, have wished that Mr. John Bown’s Intruder, whose advent creates the extremes of emotion which the play explores and resolves, had shown qualities more positively charming and more responsive allied to simple niceness and openness of character." 

The Observer 14 June 1959

"The illusion that television since it became a national mass addiction, has somehow speeded up the passage of the time is, I find, fairly widespread. It is not confined to the middle-aged—who are always on the look-out for assurances that we are galloping to the grave in line abreast like a cavalry charge instead of strung out like the runners in a long-distance handicap. Adolescent viewers whom I have consulted agree. One says that since looking at TV he has begun to develop a God’s-eye view. A thousand ages in our sight are, as the hymn says, like an evening gone.

I was moved to these temporal reflections by François Mauriac’s play Asmodeé, which I saw under singularly difficult circumstances on Tuesday night. I was about to begin celebrations befitting a TV premiére when I saw from the Radio Times that it had already been performed, successfully, in 1953. Only six years ago, but in terms of telly-time how remote that seems; how many saw it then and remember how it looked?

Last week’s was a new production, on the whole very creditable. This is a deep play and a difficult one. It has a familiar theatrical form. A strange family situation in the tutor-dominated household of a young widow has been piling up for some time until it is touched off one summer evening by the arrival of the English pupil so much older and more mature than anyone had expected. The emotional complexities are increased by the fact that everyone except the young Englishman is a devout Catholic. Lebel, the tutor, is a problem in himself, spoiled priest, neurotic, and if not a satyr, no eunuch for he has casually seduced the unfortunate governess.

Marius Goring gave a remarkable interpretation of this hideous character, making him perhaps a little fustier than necessary but most impressive. The rest of the cast were not quite up to his level but all played with that respectful sincerity which goes so far on television. The production was straightforward, rather stagy with not much camera switching, yet curiously successful at suggesting with interior sets deep summer country a two-hour drive from Bordeaux. It gripped surprisingly well."

Joan Newton in the Catholic Herald 19 June 1959

"An entirely different, kind of youth appeared in Basil Bartlett's translation of Francois Mauriac's play Asmodeé to which we saw on B.B.C. TV. She was a good, dutiful and very pious young girl of 17 who had, up to the beginning of the play intended being a nun.

The arrival of a young Englishman into her home during the summer holidays had a great influence on her and the rest of the family. There is no room here to describe the impact of this play on me but being French I felt it had an authenticity about it which made it a pleasure to watch.

Though the young girl decides she no longer has a vocation and is admirably backed up by her confessor (most realistically played by Ian Fleming) she still remains the good and pious girl, and it is her mother who suffers the most because of her own infatuation for the young man. Marius Goring superbly played the part of the rather sinister family tutor who, himself, is nursing a passion for the mother."