Fallen Hero - The Complete Series Review
You know from the minute a plaintive oboe strikes up over the opening credits that this is going to be one of those family-in-crisis melodramas that were all the rage in the 70s. Written by Brian Finch, the story centres on Gareth Hopkins (Del Henney), a pro rugby player who sustains a career-ending knee injury in the first moments of episode one. His womanising has already put his marriage to the long-suffering Dorothy (Wanda Ventham) under great strain but this proves to be the last straw and he leaves the family home to the great delight of his scheming bastard (literally) of a teenage stepson who has been working for years to split the two. Over the course of the six episodes in the first series we see Gareth attempt to rebuild his life and reconcile with his estranged family in Wales while also attempting to find some peace with Dorothy. A second six-episode series followed a year later.
The format the serial takes is that of a story-of-the-week in each episode played out against the larger arc-story of Gareth and Dorothy's deteriorating relationship. Each episode sees Gareth interact with a different set of people as he moves from job to job and in each episode he learns, from these people, a bit more about himself and the world he had taken for granted before. He starts off as an unrepentant Bad Boy but as he progresses he matures and realises what effect his actions have on others and the things he values most in his life now that almost everything he had before is gone. The first series closes with an unresolved but hopeful ending, no doubt with an eye to being recommissioned. Unfortunately the synoptic blurb on the Network website gives away major plot spoilers and is also somewhat misleading because it mostly refers to events in the second series.
The writer, Brian Finch, was an established TV scriptwriter and had just come off a long stint on Corrie which is particularly apparent in the scenes set in Gareth's family home in Wales. It really does feel like a post-watershed version of Weatherfield in The Valleys. Anyway, a serial like this stands or falls on the leading performance and Irish actor Del Henney does a decent job. He certainly looks the part and has a very convincing physical presence however he isn't the most sophisticated of actors and turns in, at best, a competent performance. But as Gareth is a man who can only articulate his feelings with his fists it proves to be a good fit. Most of the supporting cast (including a particularly elfin Tessa Peake-Jones) also turn in decent performances with only the occasional dodgy bit of casting to be seen. John Wheatley as the Stepson From Hell tends toward a one-note villain but that's more a reflection of the writing than his performance. But the real standout is Wanda Ventham as Dorothy. Despite being under-written, Ventham maintains a credible level of despairing exasperation as Dorothy has to mediate between the two men she loves the most tearing each other apart while also dealing with the terrifying prospect of being a single mother again in her 40s. Throughout the 60s and early 70s she had usually played glamorous women in authority (Colonel Virginia Lake in Gerry Anderson's UFO springs to mind) but for Fallen Hero she had a makeunder and proved herself a very good serious actress. If you think she looks familiar not only has she been a mainstay of British telly since the 60s, she is the mother of the new Golden Boy on the BBC block, Benedict Cumberbatch (the latest Sherlock Holmes). I also have to mention Nesta Harris as Gareth's mam. Her list of credits on imdb is slender but she is one of those wonderful old character actresses who don’t appear to be acting at all, they embody their characters so perfectly.
For the second series the following year (1979), the show itself had a bit of a makeover and was pushed more upmarket away from the kitchen-sink of series one into the trashy glamour world of seedy nightclubs and WAG-style Cheshire villas. Gone was the plaintive oboe title theme to be replaced by a more contemporary synth-based arrangement which, of course, instantly dates the show much more. Production style was changed from the video-plus-film of the first series to being shot entirely on film on location. At the time this would have been seen as a step up in production values and would have given a more prestigious contemporary feel. There is even a helicopter shot under the opening credits. The action picks up two years after the final episode of series one and I don't want to give away any plot details as that would spoil the whole of the first series. Let's just say Gareth, by chance, finds himself going up in the world and comes to realise that his now ex-wife Dorothy is the love of his life. Fortunately the writer and cast were reunited for the second series so although there is a higher-budget, more glamorous feel there is also a strong continuity with the first series. The plotting is less episodic and more arc-based but it does go off the rails a bit in the last two episodes before righting itself and neatly wrapping everything up in the final scenes.
As before, the stand-out performances belong to both Wanda Ventham (now back to blonde) and Nesta Harris. It's a great pity that they didn't have more to work with as the female characters in both series tend to fit two basic stereotypes - either scheming seductresses (Gareth's sister-in-law, his girlfriend, his employer) or passive long-suffering drudges (Dorothy, Gareth's mam). Which is ironic considering the audience for these melodramas was predominantly female, usually housewives enjoying a bit of light schadenfreude at the end of their day. Certainly my mother used to. But having said that, all of the characters are stereotyped to a degree. This is a lighter soapy drama after all and had to be easy to follow to keep delivering its audience to the station's advertisers week after week. The worst thing any of these ITV series could do was alienate the target audience.
The twelve 50-minute episodes are spread over three discs. Each episode is split into ten chapters which are not menu-accessible.
Transfer and Sound
The transfer is excellent. Series One (first transmitted in 1978) is made, like many dramas of the time, partly on location on 16mm film and partly in the studio on video. Apart from some dirt on the opening credits and the very occasional moment of tape damage, the picture and sound are in excellent shape for the time the series was made. Series Two from 1979, however, is made entirely on location on film. This gives a stronger visual consistency to the series but the image, as a result, is quite soft and grainy throughout, lacking the sharpness of the interiors of the first series. I don't know if this was the result of an increased budget or the desire to improve the production values but as the 70s moved into the 80s there was a general shift in working practice anyway which meant many of the more prestigious serial dramas moved completely onto film. This practice had been reserved throughout the 70s principally for single plays (and all-action cop shows like The Sweeney ). I have to say that, because of the domestic nature of most of the scenes being played, I prefer the intimacy of the studio material on video in the first series. The filmed equivalents in the second series give a sense of being more distanced from the actors.
None at all and as usual with Network there are no subtitles.
This was a fairly bog-standard late-evening serial of the time. Nothing too heavy (that was the province of the single play), written and performed in soap style but sufficiently adult in content to warrant a 9pm slot. Heavens there are even bare bottoms in it (gentlemen only). In common with most TV dramas the action is progressed through conversations between various characters which gives an intimate, domestic feel to the piece and the family-that-can't-live-together theme was very popular at the time. I thoroughly enjoyed it and, having been a fan of Wanda Ventham's since her days in UFO, was pleased to be reminded what a fine actress she is.