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Exorcism, The (1972)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Exorcism, The (1972)
For Dead of Night, BBC2, tx. 5/11/1972
50 min, colour
DirectorDon Taylor
ProducerInnes Lloyd
ScriptDon Taylor
MusicHerbert Chappell

Cast: Anna Cropper (Rachel); Sylvia Kay (Margaret); Edward Petherbridge (Edmund); Clive Swift (Dan)

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The affluent Edmund and Rachel move to a remote cottage they have just renovated at great cost. During a Christmas party they discover that it holds a dreadful secret to which they may hold the answer.

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Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto begins with the celebrated phrase, "A spectre is haunting Europe". In 'The Exorcism', writer-director Don Taylor extrapolates this into a frightening dissection of the bourgeoisie, told in the form of a traditional ghost story. Edmund and his wife Rachel renovate a remote cottage in the country and invite their friends Dan and Margaret to have Christmas dinner there. Through the course of the next 45 minutes, they are brutally forced by supernatural means to confront the literal and figurative foundations of their privileged existence.

Taylor made the play shortly after returning to the BBC after several years during which, he claimed, he was essentially blacklisted for his political views. Although reminiscent of Luis Buñuel's absurdist comedy The Exterminating Angel (Mexico, 1967), in which dinner guests find that they can no longer leave their home, 'The Exorcism' is a truly singular horror allegory that can be described quite fairly as a 'socialist' ghost story.

Taylor contrasts Edmund and Rachel with Edmund's die-hard socialist father, and soon they prove to be highly vulnerable to the power of the haunted cottage. Even their emphatically scientific friend Margaret proves susceptible to irrational fear when her husband Dan blindfolds her. Anna Cropper as Rachel provides a real tour-de-force in her climactic possession scene, though Clive Swift as Dan gets the best dialogue ("I think we should concentrate on how to be socialists and rich"). At the end of the play, when he tells Margaret not to be frightened as they have been privileged, it is both stirring and unsettling.

Apart from a brief and chilling epilogue, the drama's events are presented in real time, and this, combined with the small cast and simple setting facilitated its subsequent adaptation for radio and the stage. Like Dennis Potter's 'Blue Remembered Hills' (Play for Today, BBC tx. 30/1/1979), it has proved highly popular with small theatre companies, especially around Christmas time. It briefly gained a sad notoriety when Mary Ure committed suicide just a few nights into a run of the production in 1975.

Although produced as a stand-alone work, the play was shown as part of the supernatural anthology series Dead of Night (BBC, 1972), which took its title from Ealing Studios' 1945 eponymous portmanteau film. Of the other six plays, only two are known to have survived: Robert Holmes' 'Return Flight' (tx. 12/11/1972) and John Bowen's 'A Woman Sobbing' (tx. 17/12/1972).

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. New home, old house (4:00)
2. Wine into blood (4:04)
3. Blackout (1:35)
4. A voice from the past (1:55)
Dead of Night (1945)
Stone Tape, The (1972)
Ghost Stories