Séance on a Wet Afternoon

(Dir. Bryan Forbes) (1964)

This is to notify you that your daughter is in our possession.  She is quite safe, and if you follow instructions, she will remain safe.”  Mark McShane’s ingenious psychological thriller was read by director Forbes whilst on holiday in the South of France, and became a stunningly original, doom-laden film, full of rain-drops, sadness, loss, longing and self-delusion.

Myra Savage (Kim Stanley, in a miraculous performance) is a medium (not a charlatan – the real thing, at least in her own mind).  Invalid husband (we didn’t know “being wet” could get you a disability pension) Richard Attenborough agrees to help her stage a kidnapping so that Myra’s gift can become known to the world.  Unfortunately, what Myra chooses to call ‘borrowing a child’ is, in fact, actual kidnapping, and there’s hell to pay.


With lovely direction that accentuates the suspense, an atmospheric score from John Barry, terrific performances (apart from Ms Stanley,* particularly Attenborough, though well-versed in playing spineless villains, is magnificent, and genuinely moving, as the hen-pecked husband drawn into a monstrous scheme) and everything works towards the overall effect, from Myra’s fastidiousness over the ransom note (‘”lock” means curl…piece.’), their lush suburban home, the horrible moment when the child (a feisty Judith Donner) is told not to be afraid…’it’s only a game’ (and here’s a handkerchief soaked in chloroform), and the awful music in their parlour gramophone (credited unfortunately to Mendelssohn, with whom I share a birthday).  Quiet films can be full of feeling, and classics too.

[*Kim Stanley was of course, also the voice of the adult ‘Scout’ in To Kill a Mockingbird.]


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