The Camomile Lawn (TV serial)
|The Camomile Lawn|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||1|
|No. of episodes||4 (5 on DVD)|
|Original release||5 March –|
2 April 1992
The Camomile Lawn is a television adaptation of the 1984 book of the same name by Mary Wesley, produced by Glenn Wilhide and Sophie Belhetchet at ZED Ltd for Channel 4, directed by Peter Hall. It was adapted from Wesley's novel by Ken Taylor and first broadcast in 1992.
Set just before and during the Second World War, with an aftermath that takes place in the mid 1980s, the action begins at the Cornish country house of Helena Cuthbertson.
The title is drawn from a camomile lawn between the house and the sea cliffs on which some significant events take place.
The production begins in August 1939, when young adults Oliver (Toby Stephens), Calypso (Jennifer Ehle), Polly (Tara Fitzgerald) and her brother Walter are visiting their disorganised Aunt Helena (Felicity Kendal) and her husband Richard Cuthbertson (Paul Eddington) in their house by the sea in Cornwall. Ten-year-old Sophy (Rebecca Hall), the daughter of Richard’s late half sister, lives with them and is delighted with the arrival of her cousins, especially Oliver. The family is often visited by the twin sons of the rector of the parish and by Max and Monika Erstweiler, a Jewish refugee couple from Austria that the rector has taken in, who are missing their only son, Pauli, reported to be in a German concentration camp. The cousins invent 'The Terror Run', a cliff path dash that they race at night by a full moon, and are joined by some of the grown ups, and Sophy is determined to run it, too. However, on a daylight practice run, a coastguard exposes himself to Sophy, with surprising results.
After fighting in the Spanish Civil War, Oliver is depressed and disenchanted, but develops a crush on Calypso. She fends him off, determined to make the most of her beauty and marry a much richer man.
Polly is intelligent and practical, and when the Second World War breaks out in September 1939 she joins the War Office to work for Military intelligence, while her brother Walter joins the Royal Navy, Oliver the army, and the twins the Royal Air Force. Meanwhile, Max and Monika are interned as enemy aliens. Calypso marries Hector Grant, a Scottish landowner and member of parliament, but has many affairs. The Erstweilers are released, and Helena begins an affair with Max, Richard with Monika. Walter is killed at sea, and Calypso has a son, Hamish, shortly after her London house has been hit by a bomb, with Sophy acting as midwife. Pauli Erstweiler is reported to have died in Dachau, but in fact he survives the war.
In 1984, more than forty years on, the survivors meet again at the house in Cornwall for the funeral of Max Erstweiler. He became a well-known violinist and bought the house from Helena after Richard’s death. Most of the cast changes: Rosemary Harris, Jennifer Ehle's mother, plays Calypso in old age, Virginia McKenna the older Polly, Claire Bloom Sophy, and Richard Johnson Oliver, who is now a well-known author. Oliver says he has had two failed marriages to Calypso lookalikes. He and Sophy find they are both single and leave the funeral together, planning to get to know each other.
The house now belongs to Pauli, who plans to redevelop it and replace the camomile lawn with a swimming pool.
- Toby Stephens as Oliver Ansty
- Jennifer Ehle as Calypso
- Tara Fitzgerald as Polly
- Felicity Kendal as Helena Cuthbertson
- Paul Eddington as Richard Cuthbertson
- Rebecca Hall as Sophy
- Ben Walden as Walter
- Jeremy Brook as Paul
- Joss Brook as David
- Richard Syms as Rector
- Jane Evers as Mildred Floyer
- James Gaddas as Tony
- Nicholas Le Prevost as Hector and Hamish Grant
- Polly Adams as Sarah Ansty, Oliver’s mother
- Oliver Cotton as Max Erstweiler
- Trudy Weiss as Monika Erstweiler
- Richard Vernon as General Peachum
- Vivienne Ritchie as Iris
- John Elmes as James
- Rosemary Harris as older Calypso
- Virginia McKenna as older Polly
- Claire Bloom as older Sophy
- Richard Johnson as older Oliver
- Ralph Michael as older Tony
- Martin Benson as Pauli Erstweiler
Locations and production
The younger leading actors, Toby Stephens and Jennifer Ehle, were both playing their first screen roles. The scriptwriter, Ken Taylor, was the father of Matthew Taylor, member of parliament for this part of Cornwall. Ehle's screen career was launched by the television drama, in which she played a role that required multiple nude scenes. "I haven't done any nudity since - and never will again," she later said. "When I took the job, I didn't realize there would be so much of it, but no one forced me to do it. The first time I felt really shocked - then came a whole day of naked scenes. I went home and was physically sick. But it wasn't the time or place to sit down and ask why I'd done it. I'd forgotten that I'd be seen naked in a lot of living rooms."
Episodes (DVD release)
|#||Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date|
|1||"Episode One"||Peter Hall||Ken Taylor||5 March 1992|
|The family gathers at the camomile lawn in Cornwall in the summer of 1939. Oliver returns from the Spanish Civil War and pursues Calypso, who rejects him, saying frankly that she is looking for someone richer. Sophy has a traumatic experience and the family meets the classical musician Max and his wife Monika, Austrian Jewish immigrants.|
|2||"Episode Two"||Peter Hall||Ken Taylor||12 March 1992|
|As the Second World War breaks out, Calypso finds a rich husband, much to Oliver's dismay. Sophy is sent away to a boarding school, and Helena begins an affair. Polly finds a job in the War Office. She and Calypso take advantage of their new-found freedom to embark on a series of affairs.|
|3||"Episode Three"||Peter Hall||Ken Taylor||19 March 1992|
|Oliver is disappointed when the reality of adult life does not live up to his dreams. Calypso receives a surprise and Helena continues her affair. Sophy tells Walter her terrible secret.|
|4||"Episode Four"||Peter Hall||Ken Taylor||26 March 1992|
|Tragedy strikes when a family member is killed in action. Hector is reported missing, and Richard comes to London, disturbing Helena's daily life. Meanwhile, Polly is unable to choose between two men, and Sophy witnesses the barbarities of war for herself first hand.|
|5||"Episode Five"||Peter Hall||Ken Taylor||2 April 1992|
|Forty years on, the family gathers at the Camomile Lawn for a funeral, finally resolving Oliver's complicated love life, and Polly and Calypso's relationships with their children.|
- Dave Kehr, Mother, Daughter Share Role in South Florida Sun-Sentinel dated 12 July 2000, accessed 29 June 2012
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