mon 24/06/2024

The Little House, ITV1 | reviews, news & interviews

The Little House, ITV1

The Little House, ITV1

Francesca Annis chills the blood as Elizabeth, the monstrous matriarch

Francesca Annis as Elizabeth, the mother of all mothers-in-law

I realise actors must be prepared to suffer for their art, but it was truly heroic of Francesca Annis to allow herself to be made up to resemble Cherie Blair after a bout of electro-convulsive therapy compounded by a facelift by Dr Mengele. In The Little House, Annis plays Elizabeth, the cold and controlling mother of Patrick (Rupert Evans, formerly King Richard IV in the hilarious royal soap The Palace).

Patrick quite likes the idea of having children with his emotionally fragile wife Ruth (Lucy Griffiths), but his mum has no doubts. She has decided that Ruth is going to have her son's child (and it had better be a son or else), and when she does she’s going to live en famille in the Little House of the title, which conveniently adjoins the sprawling Tudor mansion where Elizabeth lives with her husband Frederick (a subservient Tim Pigott-Smith). To make sure, Elizabeth and Frederick have taken the precaution of purchasing the property.

Frederick and Elizabeth are the kind of people who give the middle classes a bad name, and not just because they wear Christmas-cracker hats and watch the Queen’s broadcast on Christmas Day. Evidently they have some sort of colonial background (Elizabeth boasts to Ruth about how she spent 14 hours in labour in a primitive hospital in Nairobi while giving birth to Patrick, which I guess must be the female equivalent of machismo), though while Frederick is merely tactless and clumsy, his wife is nosy, hostile and judgmental. She doesn’t approve of Ruth’s smoking. She tells her off for trying to put the silverware in the dishwasher. When the increasingly lonely and depressed Ruth slips out to meet her friend and fellow-schoolteacher Dave, trying to reconnect with the life she’s now cut off from, Elizabeth confronts her with the information that she has been seen going to a pub with “a man”. To add insult to injury, Ruth’s baby starts shrieking and bawling every time she picks him up, but he’s as good as gold when Mommy Dearest enfolds him in her bosom (Rupert Evans and Lucy Griffiths as Patrick and Ruth, pictured below).

Little_House_smallThe Little House could be shaping up nicely as a hybrid of Rosemary’s Baby and Mother Love (the one starring a really scary Diana Rigg), so it’s a shame it’s only in two parts. Ed Whitmore has done a slick job of adapting the screenplay from Philippa Gregory's novel, but time constraints have obliged him to force the pace, causing the superstructure to crack and bend. For instance, there should surely have been some more development of Ruth’s reluctance to be rushed into motherhood – one moment she was telling Patrick she wasn’t ready and reminding him of their plans to spend a year in America, then seconds later her waters were breaking. Similarly, Ruth was adamant that she didn’t want to move into the titular small dwelling, but before you could shout “Location, location!” there she was, all cottaged-up like Little Blond Riding Hood in the middle of an eerie and unwelcoming forest. Maybe the network bean counters axed a projected third instalment.

The extra dimension to all this which will presumably be dragged out in part two is Ruth’s quest for her lost family. She’s already experienced a spectral sighting of her mother, though subsequently it looked as if she’d been killed in a car crash when Ruth was a child (but we don’t know for sure). However, now that a doctor has diagnosed poor Ruth as suffering from “post-partum psychosis”, all outcomes, however outlandish, have become possible. Ruth’s symptoms include confusion, memory loss and feelings of alienation from her baby, so delusion and reality are bound to become interchangeable. One fact that remains crystal clear is that Francesca Annis was born to play this matriarch from Hades.

Now that a doctor has diagnosed poor Ruth as suffering from postpartum psychosis, all outcomes have become possible

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