By Will Barber Taylor
Paul heads off to Marseilles following his fiancée Margot’s instructions, embarking on what he believes will be a routine business trip. In what is turning out to be a theme in Paul’s life, he quickly falls victim to comic misfortune. Things go from bad to worse, and he fears that he may not make it back in time for his wedding with Margot. What he doesn’t realise is that things are far more serious than that…
Bringing the BBC’s wonderful adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall to an end is the third episode. Like the first two episodes, it resonates with the warmth and charm that is integral to the novel’s success. Pennyfeather’s fall is depicted in this episode as being the result of society’s corruption, a theme Waugh repeats throughout his work and which is reinforced by Pennyfeather’s ultimate fate – he only achieves true happiness through the corruption of society, similar to the dishonesty that forces him into prison in the first place. The complex nature of life and the ever-spinning wheel of life are beautifully depicted in this final episode; rather than hitting the audience with obvious metaphors or comparison, the subtlety of Waugh’s words can express themselves without being made clunky or redundant by the transfer to television.
As always, the acting is excellent. Jack Whitehall’s Pennyfeather responds to his incarnation with the stoic despair you would expect from the character and Whitehall plays up Pennyfeather’s personality traits of nervous and honest throughout the episode to devastating effect. Pennyfeather’s best scene is towards the end of the episode when he realises the circle of life and the falling fortunes of us all is part of life.
Douglas Hodge, however, manages again to steal the comedic rug from under Whitehall’s feet. Hodge holds the audience’s attention fully whenever he appears on screen. His final scene, escaping over the moors sums up Captain Grimes perfectly – hilarious, charmingly insincere and one of Waugh’s best comic creations.
The final episode of Decline and Fall is a tremendous conclusion to the BBC’s adaptation of Waugh’s novel. It concludes on a positive note – that whilst life may cause us difficulties and problems, it is not impossible to deal with them in a chirpy and amusing way. Decline and Fall should be treasured for that fact alone.
With thanks to BBC Media.