Wednesday 13 February 2013

Bloodlines: Legacy of a Lord [1998]

Directed by Brian Grant, BLOODLINES: LEGACY OF A LORD purports to tell the truth behind one of the most enduring and notorious missing persons cases in history, the case of Lord Lucan.  It stars Richard Lintern as Lucan, Beatie Edney as the woman doggedly pursuing the truth, and the late Jon Finch as a retired detective turned publican who worked on the case.

For those who have been in a coma for the last forty years, Lord Lucan - or the 7th Earl of Lucan, to give him his full title - was (and maybe still is) a British aristocrat who vanished off the face of the earth in 1974 on the same night that his children's nanny was murdered by an intruder at the home of her employer, Lucan's estranged wife.  His wife was also attacked but survived and later named her husband as the intruder during the inquest into the nanny's death.  The inquest took the unusual step of naming Lucan as the person responsible for the nanny's death and circumstantial evidence, along with his rapidly declining personal circumstances (he was a heavy gambler), seems to suggest that he had the motive, means and opportunity to commit the crime.

Richard Lintern as Lord Lucan

Lucan's car was found abandoned at Newhaven on the south coast of England but in it were discovered bloodstains and, in true Cluedo style, a length of lead piping similar to that which had been used in the murder.  Of Lucan himself, there has subsequently been no trace.  The location of his car has led some to speculate that he committed suicide, others that he made his way out of the country never to return.  The truth is that no-one knows what happened to him, or at least no-one is telling.  His aristocratic status has prompted suggestions that his upper-class friends and the old boy network somehow spirited him out of England and set him up under a false identity abroad.

Every so often the British media will run a story about Lucan, featuring claims that he has been spotted running a shoe shop in Johannesburg or other such outlandish nonsense.  They do however help to keep the mystery alive and in people's minds; the name Lucan has long since passed into English popular culture as a byword for the lost or disappeared.  For such an enduring case it is perhaps surprising that relatively few films have been made about it; the ever-reliable imdb informs me that the Lucan story has been told only three or four times, the most recent of which is BLOODLINES, and that's 15 years old now.

Lucan considers his options

The story is told largely in flashback, via the device of Edney interviewing Finch about his recollections of the case.  The crime itself is dealt with almost straight away and follows the generally accepted version of events as told to the inquest.  However, as Edney quizzes Finch more and more, a second narrative begins to emerge which, piece by piece, offers a second account of the night in question.  The film climaxes with a second depiction of the crime - according to the new 'evidence' offered by Finch - and its aftermath.

I won't go into exactly what the film asks us to believe but suffice it to say that the Occam's Razor principle came into my mind and I just couldn't swallow what ends up becoming a pretty outlandish, although not impossible, alternative explanation.  One final point about the film is that - as you will be able to gather from these stills - it suffers from an acute case of Bruce Surtees Syndrome, that is to say Exceedingly Dark Interiors.

Jon Finch

As fascinating as the Lucan case is, the real reason I watched this movie at all is Jon Finch.  Finch's death in late December last year was announced in the British press two or three weeks ago and very sad news it was too.  Although his salad days were long behind him, Finch was an actor of considerable talent and charisma.  His two most memorable screen roles were Richard Blaney in Hitchcock's excellent thriller FRENZY [1972] and Macbeth in Polanski's startling version of Shakespeare's tragedy [1971].  Obituaries tended to focus on these two films almost exclusively and cited Finch's easy-going lack of ambition as a reason why his career seemingly petered out almost as soon as it had begun.  However, he was still making big-budget films late into the 1970s and continued to work extensively on television into the 1980s.  He also featured strongly in a couple of Hammer horrors prior to his stardom, and returned to working for the company in their TV series HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR in 1980.  He was also cast as Kane, the ill-fated crew member in Ridley Scott's ALIEN [1979], but had to withdraw due to ill health; I'm had he been able to fulfill that notorious role, eventually played of course by John Hurt, it would have raised his profile perhaps back to where it had been at the beginning of the decade.  Another fine delirious film in which Finch starred was Robert Fuest's THE FINAL PROGRAMME [1973], an adaptation of one of Michael Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius novels.  A fantastic mash-up of films as diverse as A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, O LUCKY MAN!, BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN and PERFORMANCE it is well worth a look if you can track it down; it's a wonderfully stylish film that also features a great delirious supporting cast.

Beatie Edney stumbles over a clue

Beatie Edney is the daughter of veteran British actress Sylvia Syms, star of stiff upper lip classic ICE COLD IN ALEX [1958] and, less impressively, shonky portmanteau horror ASYLUM [1972].  Edney had a great start to her career in Russell Mulcahy's HIGHLANDER [1986] but she never really hit the heights again, despite working steadily including a lot of TV work.

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