Saturday, February 17, 2007

Miss Austen and Samuel West

Samuel West can give me a cringing panic attack faster than a bag of snakes ever could. Well, that is when I watch him playing the attractive yet dastardly baronet-to-be Mr Elliot in Nick Dear’s 1995 adaptation of Persuasion. Crikey, if I’m not out of my skin before Anne Elliot is finally out of her seat in the music recital trying to stop Captain Wentworth from leaving. As West fawns over Anne and sappily “proposes” I can hardly bear the torture of Wentworth against the wall misunderstanding what he is seeing. I want to throttle Mr Elliot when he comes into the tea shop with the damn umbrella at Anne’s disposal dispersing any pretence she had to put herself in debt to Captain Wentworth. Later, in the final scenes of the film, when Anne admits she hasn’t had time to turn her mind to Mr Elliot’s offer “to flatter and adore her all her life,” my soul sings. Okay well, maybe my soul doesn’t sing but I am damn happy to see him so soundly put down. Who wouldn’t be? Wickedness always seems more horrid when it is hidden beneath a cloak of pretty wrapping such as West.

Apparently, Sam comes by his talent for Austen rightly. In 1952 his mother Prunella Scales at the pretty age of 20 played Lydia Bennett in Cedric Wallis’ adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. It seems to be one of her earliest filmed roles if not the earliest. Also playing in this production as Mr Collins was Sam’s paternal grandfather Lockwood West. Though Scales was to marry Lockwood’s son the Tim in 1963, she wouldn’t meet him for another 8 years. It was that year (1960) that Timothy West himself appeared in one of his earliest filmed roles completing the foundation of Wests as Austen characters. He played Charles Hayter in the first mini-series of Persuasion.

Throughout the years, the larger genre of costume drama has been privileged by many performances by this talented family. Look for both Sam and his mother in Merchant and Ivory’s Howard’s End (1992). Sam, of course, plays Leonard Bast in a much more sympathetic if not wholly diametric role to Mr Elliot. Also, Scales was in Andrew Davies’ 1996 Emma. And way back in 1975 both father and son played in the mini-series Edward the King. Timothy West plays the title role while Sam plays the king at age 5.

Timothy was last seen in the Beeb’s Bleak House (2005). Scales will next be seen in The Shell Seekers (2006) and Sam can be seen in the latest Inspector Linley Mysteries: The Chinese Walls (2006).