The Owl Service
Huw bookends this episode, which hinges on his crazed insights. Lewellyn gives a striking performance, conveying his antic disposition with complete conviction. In the first instance Huw is merely telling his tales as Roger sets up his camera (another great Roger putdown; in response to Huw asking if he’s photographing the stone, Roger replies, “No, the Albert Memorial!”) It’s at the end that he proves most affecting, leaving Holden’s limitations as a performer particularly exposed. Huw is reliving his part in the last iteration of the legend, and opines that “She wants to be flowers and you make her owls” to Gwyn. “Their name is on the books of the law but I own the grounds” makes an effective rejoinder to notions of society and privilege.
Earlier we see him take on the bearing of a Greek chorus, as he observes, “She has come” when Alison exits her childhood playhouse with Gwyn. They have spent the night there, Alison finally finishing her bird tracings (so she now fully embodies the spirit of Blodwuedd).
The preceding sequence is an odd one. There’s a taste of voyeurism as Alison is observed changing her clothes (we learn that this is Gwyn) before heading out to the hut (she takes an age to get there, Plummer following her every covert move). It’s when Gwyn breaks in on a distressed Alison that things become slightly unpleasant. This part of the scene is played out as invasive and threatening, as if Gwyn’s objective is attempted rape. Later, when the scene settles into a conversation between the two, Holden can’t compete with Hills; he’s clumsy and stiff in comparison. He can manage anger reasonably well but has problems with a wider emotional palate.
Aside from the opening scene, the focus is very much on Gwyn and Alison. The tensions within the house are building as Clive discovers the note Gwyn has left for Alison (“Let’s have the coffee served straight, without notes”). Alison descends the stairs legs first in a red skirt (Plummer is acutely aware of Hills’ legs, so you’ll forgive me if I am too), ignoring moon-eyed Gwyn.
Hills is a natural at playing the Lolita (for want of a better comparison) in response to her perhaps too attentive stepfather. And again, mother is there but corporeally absent. Margaret bashes away on the piano but Alison, Roger and Clive are the only ones we see. The consequence is to imply a slightly untoward undercurrent between Clive and Alison (it’s like they’re the only ones in the room; well, apart from Roger).
Garner’s own background as a working-class lad offered a privileged education is played out in the scene between Gwyn and Nancy. Edwards has as much of a tendency to overplay as Llewellyn, but he has the excuse of playing a loony. She threatens to cut short his schooling (“You’ll start behind the counter of the Co-op!”) if he doesn’t stop going on about Huw and the plates. Nancy has been seduced into returning to the house by the promise of a decent wage, against her better judgement (“Never go back! Never go back!”). Gwyn’s way of lashing out is to condescend in exactly the way the others do to him (“It’s uncouth to omit the auxiliary verb”).