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Singing Detective, The (1986)


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!

Episode Six (final episode). 1945: following the death of his mother in London, nine year old Philip Marlow returns alone on the train to his Forest village in the West of England, where he is reunited with his grieving father. The 1980s: middle-aged, ill Philip Marlow recalls for his hospital psychotherapist, Gibbon, the events of that fateful childhood year, 1945, including his guilt at having betrayed another child to a cruel teacher. It becomes clear that he has named the villain of his pulp novel The Singing Detective after that child: Mark Binney. With self-revelation comes catharsis, as Marlow takes the first tentative steps out of his hospital wheelchair, imagining as he does so Dr. Gibbon lip-synching to the old Inkspots/Ella Fitzgerald song, 'Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall'.

Back in his hospital bed, Marlow fantasises his estranged wife, Nicola, plotting with an imagined lover, Mark Finney, to steal Marlow's old movie script of The Singing Detective and sell it to Hollywood as their own work. But when Nicola, an actress, is passed over for a part in the film, she murders Finney, as it becomes clear her accusations against Finney are actually words she has used in anger against the writer Marlow. Realising his own villainy, Marlow begins to recognise his own blame for his estrangement from Nicola and how much how he wants her back: another vital step on his road to recovery.

Coupled with these self-revelations are Marlow's memories as a child, spying on his late father in the woods of his Forest home where, following the death of his mother, he secretly observed his emotionally repressed father release an almost 'animal-like' cry of grief and despair.

Two 'mysterious men', villains from Marlow's novel, seemingly step out of the pages of fiction to confront their creator in hospital with all the unresolved questions about the narrative. Fantasy and reality blur as Marlow's fictional hero and alter-ego, The Singing Detective, bursts into the ward to the rescue. A shoot-out ensues but it is Marlow - the diseased and misanthropic writer bed-bound in hospital - who is finally shot by his own creation, The Singing Detective. Only by symbolically killing off his old sick self through the power of imagination can the fantasising Marlow hope to recover. Reunited with Nicola, he is at last able to depart the hospital ward, cured, as Vera Lynn's wartime song, 'We'll Meet Again', sweetly plays.