The Scapegoat Review

Same face, different man, new life.
John Standing is just about to take a holiday that he will never forget

This wonderfully compelling drama, based on the classic tale from Daphne Du Maurier, is a shining example of how good ITV drama can be. Absorbing from the first ten minutes, I was completely hooked by the time the switch had taken place and even though deep down I knew the eventual outcome of the tale, the journey was just as thrilling as the destination.

It is 1952 and John Standing (Matthew Rhys), a polite and gentle teacher, is being swept out of his teaching post to make way for new subjects and new staff. With no family or ties he decided to take a walking holiday to clear out the cobwebs and ponder on what to do next with his life; stopping into a pub on his way to catch the train he was mistaken for another gentleman and he soon found out why, a man in the pub looked identical and the pair began drinking together. John’s doppelganger, the refined cad, Johnny Spence (also Matthew Rhys) was fascinated by the likeness between the two men and both missing their trains, the pair drank late into the night with Johnny discussing his problematic family.

John awoke the next morning, hungover and with the realisation that Johnny had stolen his clothes and left his own, disappearing into the ether, leaving John to deal with his family. Despite his protestations that he wasn’t who they thought he was, it didn’t seem to matter to his family who were cross that he hadn’t contacted them the night before, their only concern a contract that he was supposed to have negotiated. Not having any clue, John said that he had signed the contract and everyone seemed pleased, little did he know that he had been made scapegoat of the title. He later found that Johnny’s family owned a glass factory reliant on the contract he was supposed to sign, he was sleeping with his brother’s (Sherlock’s Andrew Scott) wife Nina (Sheridan Smith) as well as having a mistress, Bela (Sylvie Testud), in town. With little interest in his wife Frances (Alice Orr-Ewing) other than to provide a male heir or die, leaving a generous inheritance, Johnny seemed to be a ruthless cad. Womanising Johnny had also managed to wreck his sister Blanche’s (Jodhi May) life and they all lived in a huge mansion with their mother (Eileen Atkins) who never left her bed and relied upon morphine.

Setting about to right all of the wrongs, John dives into his new role and tries to bring the family together again, Johnny’s daughter and wife seem to be aware there is a change but seem reluctant to admit it. As John is taken into the hearts of Johnny’s family and all seems to be coming together, Johnny returns under the cover of night to steal his mother’s morphine and put an end to the life of his wife while John is enjoying some brotherly bonding with Paul. Now that Johnny is back, will John readily give up his new-found family and to what lengths will Johnny go to resume his place in the house?

There is so much to this story that this short synopsis barely does it justice and it is definitely worth seeking out the drama to enjoy yourself. If you can ignore the nagging feeling that it surely wouldn’t be that easy to slide into the role in another family then you have a fascinating story of swapped lives, the tussle between good and evil and the question of how far a good man will go to prevent bad seeping into the lives of those he has come to love.

With the events all taking place during the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the changing times are reflected in the storyline and it is the perfect backdrop to the life swapping drama.

With Matthew Rhys playing the two main characters to perfection, his versatility as an actor really comes through; a wicked glint in the eye for Johnny and the tender concern of John. Andrew Scott plays Paul, craving his brother’s approval and with Sheridan Smith in the role of naughty Nina, his wife, the pair have a good rapport that shows brilliantly. The performances and the story were outstanding, leading to a complete triumph overall. Definitely a drama not to be missed and worth seeking out if you can.