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Life and Loves of a She-Devil, The (1986)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Life and Loves of a She-Devil, The (1986)
BBC2, tx. 8/10-29/10/1986
4 x 60 minutes, colour
DirectorPhilip Saville
ProducerSally Head
AdaptationTed Whitehead
From the Novel byFay Weldon
MusicPeter Filleul

Cast: Julie T. Wallace (Ruth); Dennis Waterman (Bobbo); Patricia Hodge (Mary Fisher); Noël Dyson (Brenda); John Bluthal (Angus); Liz Smith (Mrs Fisher); Tom Baker (Father Ferguson)

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Ruth, overweight and unattractive wife of the serially unfaithful Bobbo and mother of his children, finally decides she can take no more when he takes up with a glamorous and successful novelist who is everything Ruth is not. Her revenge takes an unusual form...

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"Ugly women wait for old age to equalise us all", says the heroine of Fay Weldon's fantastical parable, before deciding that she can't wait. How prescient the story now seems, and how right Weldon was to scorn the feminist hope that women could be accepted by society for what they really are, and not how they look and behave. Thirty years before regular make-over programmes on TV, and the continuing obsession with physical perfection, Ruth - six feet tall, plain and dowdy - undergoes the most extreme make-over of all time to resemble her rival, romance writer Mary Fisher (an icily glamorous Patricia Hodge), who lives in a tower above the sea and who has stolen away Ruth's accountant husband, Bobbo.

Weldon's 1983 novel, adapted by Ted Whitehead, was an ironic modern fairy tale, a satire on romantic fiction and the lies it tells to women about love and sex. Serially unfaithful Bobbo committed 'sexual suicide' in marrying the ugly Ruth, who repeats 'the litany of the good wife' to herself whenever marital pressures become unbearable. Bobbo's latest infatuation, with Mary, finally tips Ruth over the edge, and she dumps her children on the loving couple and burns down the family home. Accused by Bobbo of being a 'she-devil' rather than the compliant woman he expects, Ruth indeed assumes supernatural powers. Freed from her conventional role of wife and mother, she can become anything she chooses - tart, caring nurse, successful businesswoman, seductive blonde - while her intelligence and ability mean that she can have anything she wants. But what she wants is to have everything that Mary Fisher has - the tower, the beauty, the wealth, the fame, the power over men - and each of her new personas is only a means to that end. Weldon, who was not above reinventing herself in late middle-age, always insisted that the story was about envy and not revenge; Ruth destroys Mary in order to become her.

Director Philip Saville, renowned for his style of heightened naturalism on the small screen, conjures up some memorable imagery for the series and coaxes a truly remarkable performance from newcomer Julie T Wallace as Ruth, as confident as it is courageous. Dennis Waterman's characteristic Jack-the-lad persona seems inappropriate for suburban, middle-class Bobbo - why would sophisticated Mary fall for him? But a slim-looking Tom Baker, five years after playing Doctor Who, is very funny as a randy priest.

Janet Moat

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Video Clips
1. Mary Fisher (4:31)
2. 'She-Devil!' (5:43)
3. Becoming the She-Devil (2:02)
Life and Loves of a She Devil Complete first episode (59:42)
Baker, Tom (1936-)
Margolyes, Miriam (1941-)
Saville, Philip (1930-)
Smith, Liz (1921-)
Waterman, Dennis (1948-)
Weldon, Fay (1931-)