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Bouquet of Barbed Wire, A (1977)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Bouquet of Barbed Wire, A (1977)
LWT for ITV, tx. 9/1-20/2/1976
7 x 60-min episodes, colour
DirectorTony Wharmby
ProducerTony Wharmby
ScriptAndrea Newman
From the novel byAndrea Newman

Cast: Frank Finlay (Peter Manson); Susan Penhaligon (Prue Sorenson); James Aubrey (Gavin Sorenson); Sheila Allen (Cassie Manson); Deborah Grant (Sarah Francis)

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Favoured daughter Prue's marriage to a manipulative young American creates tensions for possessive father Peter Manson, and initiates a chain of events that will tear their once comfortable middle-class family apart.

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A Bouquet of Barbed Wire was something of a succès de scandale when it first appeared in 1976. If it now strikes modern audiences as little more than a sophisticated soap opera, that's because many of the sexual relationships it details have become the common currency of TV drama, its once risqué examination of infidelity among moneyed, upper-middle-class urbanites ripening into cliché.

At the time, though, the world it portrayed so frankly was undiscovered territory for much of the audience; seldom had cosmopolitan London and the casual relationships seemingly enjoyed by the younger generation been explored with such matter-of-fact familiarity. What's more, in its reliance on dialogue and complex characterisation, it often demonstrates a depth not found in its modern counterparts. Adapted by Andrea Newman from her own 1969 novel, the series treats both male and female characters sympathetically, and is startlingly honest about the buried needs within both sexes - some women's desire for violence, for example. Such subjects would be controversial enough in the first full tide of '70s feminism, but in today's politically-correct, post-Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus climate, they might be deemed reactionary or misogynist.

Then there's the question of incest. It's hard to imagine a drama made for popular consumption treating this taboo topic with such tact and empathy. The fact that Peter is really in love with his daughter, Prue, is implied throughout, but never made explicit. This allows Newman to explore the full psychological ramifications of such a relationship. In the process, she builds a twisted Electra-complex narrative where, in his overbearing infatuation with her, Peter allows Prue to assume the role of 'patriarch' and dictate terms to the family, while her violent husband Gavin ends up bedding Peter's wife, the two of them acting as surrogate parents to Prue's child, which is the image of her. It's a tortuous circle of love (which, in Newman's universe, is as much destructive as it is consoling) worthy of comparison with Max Ophuls' classic La Ronde (France, 1950).

Such was the series' success that it bore a sequel, Another Bouquet (ITV, 1977), while a remake is in development.

Michael Bartlett

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Video Clips
1. 'Do I have news for you' (8:06)
3. A kept woman (3:33)
4. Revelations (4:19)
Bouquet of Barbed Wire 2. (3:20)
Complete episode (50:29)
Forsyte Saga, The (1967)
Finlay, Frank (1926-)
Newman, Andrea (1938-)