The Tenth Man Review
Jack Gold has always received the better plaudits for his television work (Arturo Ui, The Naked Civil Servant) than his contributions to cinema (The Medusa Touch, Who?), yet this 1988 TV adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel is a decidedly tepid affair. Faithful to its source in narrative terms, The Tenth Man details the cowardice and attempted retribution of a man during and after World War II. He’s a lawyer living in France who finds himself imprisoned at random and facing the firing line. Unable to go through with such a plight, he offers his fortune and property to anyone willing to replace him and finds such a soul, one wishing to support his mother and sister once he has gone. Three years and a false beard later, our newly liberated returns to his old home and gains employment with said relatives, albeit without revealing his true identity.
It’s a melodramatic set-up and one that doesn’t truly succeed in narrative terms as it can only develop in one direction, i.e. towards the inevitable revelation. However, it is an intriguing enough basis for a character study to be built upon as “the monster” gets closer to a woman who hates who he truly is. What’s disappointing then is Gold’s decision to rely on the plotting and largely forego any kind of depth or moral questioning. The pair, played by Anthony Hopkins and Kristin Scott-Thomas, are rendered solely in simple class terms (he’s middle class but now lower class, she’s taken the opposite route), the concentration instead being firmly on such clichéd devices as the gun in the cupboard drawer or the possibility that the townsfolk may recognise Hopkins’ true identity (hence the decision to keep the beard). Indeed, the drama appears to have been relegated to the ridiculously overbearing score rather than allow any of the scenes to speak for themselves.
The Tenth Man does have one trick up its sleeve in the appearance of Derek Jacobi during the final third. Claiming to be the man who Hopkins really is, he brings some much needed energy whilst muddying the narrative waters. Yet whilst this may spark some renewed interest in events, it also serves to simplify Hopkins’ moral quandary even further. By making Jacobi a murderer and collaborator with obvious bad intentions for Scott-Thomas and her mother, The Tenth Man is given a clear villain. The effect of this is twofold: firstly, is allows screenwriter Lee Langley to ignore Hopkins’ predicament for a while; and secondly, it makes Hopkins a far more acceptable figure. He too is effectively a murderer having paid for a man’s life, yet all of this is neatly sketched over and rendered trivial against what essentially becomes just another slightly overwrought television thriller indistinguishable from the rest.
Given its TV origins, The Tenth Man looks as good as could be expected on disc. Shot on film and on location, the piece is fine visually without ever being exceptional. That said the disc (retaining the original 4:3 ratio) offers no technical problems and the same can be said of the stereo sound. Indeed, both are largely ordinary without truly disappointing, though the same cannot be said for the extras as the disc is completely devoid of any.