Play for Today: Brimstone and Treacle. Directed by Barry Davis. Written by Dennis Potter. Starring Denholm Elliott, Michael Kitchen, Patricia Lawrence, Michelle Newell. First shown on television 25th August 1987 (originally scheduled for 6th April 1976, then banned).
This review reportedly contains spoilers.
*reviewed in 2008*
I remember being extremely disturbed by this play on first seeing it twenty years ago, and it has not lost any of its power to shock.
A young man, who we know right from the start to be the devil, coolly chooses his victim on the high street, foisting himself on the nervous and racist Mr Bates by his supposed friendship with Bates’ handicapped daughter, Pattie.
As the devil (here called Martin) Michael Kitchen is menacing and also very funny, while Denholm Elliott plays the father very well. Michelle Newell and Patricia Lawrence complete the cast as the girl vegetated by a car accident and her put-upon mother, destined to care for her forever.
This film was banned by the BBC for a decade, mainly because the basic message of the play is that as the devil rapes Pattie, so her restores her power of speech and the quality of her existence.
But the play is much more profound than that, although some of its message is muddled and not fully developed. Potter himself claimed that ‘Brimstone and Treacle’ was a religious parable about good and evil – if so, it raises some interesting questions while being both distasteful and compelling to watch.