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Talking to a Stranger (1966)


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!

Part 4: 'The innocent must suffer' (BBC2, tx. 23/10/1966)

Sarah Stephens makes Sunday lunch for husband Ted and herself, just as she has done throughout her long married life - a proper Sunday roast with all the trimmings and the good china. Her neighbour Jill has popped in for a chat. When she's left, Sarah vents her exasperation with Ted; she wonders what he finds to do all day, now that he has retired. Their son Alan is expected after lunch, and Sarah is disappointed that he won't be bringing the grandchildren. After a mostly silent and uneasy lunch Ted tells Sarah to have a rest before doing the dishes, but she can hardly restrain herself from automatically clearing the table. They have little to say to each other.

Unexpectedly, their daughter Terry arrives, and although Sarah is pleased, she finds it impossible to show it. When Terry suddenly has a nauseous attack, Sarah immediately suspects that something is wrong. When Ted has left the room, she asks Terry if she is pregnant; Terry hotly denies it.

While Sarah bakes a cake for tea, Alan arrives. He agrees with his mother that Terry looks ill. He criticises Sarah for her apparent coolness towards everyone, saying that he believes she doesn't really care if she never sets eyes on him again, while Sarah complains that Ted often doesn't talk for hours on end.

The family sit down to Sunday tea and Alan tells them he is thinking of taking a new job. It will mean promotion and more money, but - it is in Australia. Sarah is devastated but encourages him to go. Terry mocks her air of martyrdom and Sarah strikes her. Alan's old schoolfriend Gordon arrives and he goes out to see him. Sarah tells Terry not to visit the house again. Terry finally admits her pregnancy - and her fear of childbirth - and Sarah relents.

Sarah and Alan row about his wife, and about Ted, who had the same job for twenty years. Sarah now scolds Alan for accepting the new job and abandoning them. Terry is given a belated birthday present - the family have not seen her for over six months. She gives them her new address, and leaves. Ted and Alan have a private talk, which annoys Sarah. Ted starts to look for an old school photograph to show Gordon. Sarah tells Alan she dreads being left alone with Ted, and begs him to stay in England for her sake. But Alan always felt second best; Ted preferred Terry. He resents the way Sarah treats the grandchildren, while she feels he only visits out of duty.

Alan and Gordon leave, but Ted is still searching for the photograph. Sarah helps him and he suddenly blurts out "they don't like us at all, do they, Sarah?", meaning their children. For a moment, they remember a happy time when the children were small, it seemed a perfect childhood. Sarah spoils the mood by telling Ted of Terry's pregnancy, and as she goes downstairs she hears him crying.

While she cooks supper, Sarah continues to argue with Ted about Terry. She suddenly realises that he blames her for everything that is wrong with the family. He tells her that he hates her for being younger than him, for still being alive when he is dead. He goes back upstairs and Sarah appears to black out. When she comes to, the kitchen floor is covered with broken china. Jill comes to the front door, alarmed by the sound of breaking and smashing in the house. Sarah denies anything is wrong. In a rare confessional moment, she starts to confide in Jill - about the beloved father who died in World War One when she was nine, about her feelings for Terry. But Jill's husband comes home and she leaves.

Sarah shuts the living room door and takes a glass from the cupboard. As her family take their final leave of the house, it is apparent that she has cut her wrists with the broken glass.