Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Vision, The (1988)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

Flat-capped, raincoated and anonymous, James Marriner is a shadow of the 'Gentle Jim' he was 20 years ago, with millions following his television magazine show. He has been reduced to advertising a margarine that he would never normally allow to pass his lips. His marriage to Helen is arid; his relationship with their student daughter Jo is strained. However, the executives of the People Channel, an evangelical satellite network about to launch in six European countries, have identified his enduringly high 'familiarity rating' which, coupled with an attractive vulnerability, makes him their first choice to front a programme as commentator, anchorman, host and, above all, friend.

Marriner has just opened another new supermarket when he is summoned to a limousine bearing Grace Gardner, the Channel's ice-cool boss, who offers him the chance to regain his self-respect by doing what he once did best, for an organisation which intends to win the battle for the hearts and minds of the continent. In the car, in a park, in the studio and in her office, she systematically carries out what Marriner describes as a smash-and-grab raid on his inner self. Helen, a practising Christian and Samaritans volunteer, is sceptical about her husband's new employers, whose ruthlessness and financial muscle are known to BBC executives, the Satellite Broadcasting Authority and politicians. The Channel has a powerful information-gathering operation, and is not above a little blackmail. Grace tries to persuade Helen, as the loyal wife of 30 years, to make occasional appearances on Marriner's show, but is rebuffed.

Meanwhile Marriner, himself under surveillance by Grace's snoopers, is captured in compromising photographs with his former secretary, Margaret ('Meg') Bunn, who he has been visiting regularly for a warmth and affection lacking at home. Challenged by Grace, he offers his resignation, which is not immediately accepted because a huge publicity campaign is well advanced, with Marriner as its figurehead. He confesses to Helen, saying he can no longer live with lies. She likens him to a child, oblivious of anyone else's hurt until he himself feels the pain. Returning to Grace's office, Marriner resolves finally to quit. She warns him that there will be a price to pay.

The tabloids go to town, revealing 'Gentle Jim's sexy secret' and making much of Meg's surname, while Grace's colleagues express satisfaction that their Channel is being seen as a champion of family values. Jo arrives at her parents' house, flings a newspaper at Marriner's feet, and moments later scores a more direct hit with a can of tomato soup. A furious exchange between father and daughter is interrupted by Helen. After a family conference, she invites the press pack lurking outside to come in for a cup of tea, tricks the hacks into her confidence, then delivers a salvo of home-truths about their profession.

Marriner, who has escaped by the back door, goes to Meg's flat. She is dead, a suicide note nearby. He hurries to see Grace and challenges her to tell him what Meg died for - television? The People Channel, she replies, is more than television. Enraged, he attacks his intended studio set with a poker and, pursued by security, strays into a restricted area, where he sees more clearly the extent of the operation being mounted by what Grace calls 'a community of interest' known as The Vision. He returns home, to find Helen has packed to leave. He fails to stop her, but promises that good will come of it all. He visits Jo, and they manage a reconciliation.

An idea occurs to Marriner: an act of redemption, on-air, as the People Channel goes live. Despite opposition from her colleagues, Grace agrees. A script is prepared. Marriner says his disgrace has set him free, and he has the People Channel to thank for that. Then he parts company with the autocue to deliver an impassioned warning about the network's intentions. As he is escorted from the building, he realises that it was in vain. But Helen is waiting for him.