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Rachel in Danger (1978)

Courtesy of FremantleMedia

Main image of Rachel in Danger (1978)
Thames for ITV, tx. 21/2 - 2/3/1978, 4 x 23 min episodes, colour
DirectorWaris Hussein
Production CompanyThames Television
ProducerAndrew Brown
ScriptJohn Bowen
Theme MusicAndy MacKay

Cast: Neville Jason (Peter); Della Low (Rachel); Patricia Mason (Scots lady); Stephen Greif (Joan); George Waring (police sergeant)

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A 10-year old girl arrives in London to stay with her long-absent father, but falls into the hands of terrorists planning to assassinate the Queen.

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Armchair Thriller (ITV, 1978-80) sought to scare audiences with contemporary tales of unease in twice-weekly half-hour instalments shown just before the 9 o'clock watershed. The debut serial was 'Rachel in Danger', in which a resilient young girl from Scotland comes to London to stay with her father, who she hasn't seen since she was two-years old. Unbeknown to her, the man who collects her is a terrorist who has just killed her father, stolen his identity and is planning to assassinate the Queen.

Director Waris Hussein was ideally suited to the story, having on many previous occasions demonstrated his affinity for stories of women in alien surroundings in projects as different as 'A Passage to India' (Play of the Month, BBC, tx. 16/11/1965), 'An Unearthly Child' (Doctor Who, BBC, tx. 23/11/1963) and Edward and Mrs Simpson (ITV, 1978). Rachel's sense of dislocation is emphasised at every turn as everyone she meets turns out to be 'foreign' in one way or another. The leader of the gang, played with icy humour and panache by Stephen Greif, is a South American, while his 'wife' is Japanese and the other men in the terrorist cell are Wormald, a sentimental Brummie, and Hassel, an intellectual German. In making the terrorists such a multi-national group, the intention was probably to avoid the obvious strategy of making them IRA members, though it now comes across as a prescient touch.

For the story's surprise conclusion, John Bowen's script keeps us abreast of the murder plan but provides little indication of what Rachel is actually thinking or feeling, so it comes as a genuine relief when, in the closing scene, she is finally able to show her emotions and mourn the death of her father when she cries in the arms of a sympathetic WPC. This strategy means that most of the plot is devoted to the villains, their deadly intent emphasised by three fairly graphic on-screen murders. There are some strong suspense sequences, such as Rachel's discovery of the body of her real father in a cupboard, but the best scene is probably when Greif, in character as Rachel's father, tries to explain to her why after spending many years as an apolitical outsider in a South American country he has now decided to embrace a revolutionary ideology and undertake direct action. It's a chilling yet strangely tender moment that sums up the best qualities of the serial.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. A familiar face (3:32)
2. Waiting at Euston (4:29)
3. Identification (4:19)
Armchair Thriller Opening title (0:19)
Complete first episode Part 1 (8:27)
Part 2 (14:35)
Hussein, Waris (1938- )