It's a killer of an opening, and from there it gets waaaaaay strange as poor old Robert (John Hannah) finds himself sucked completely into the well-nigh incomprehensible machinations of the diabolical Brond (Stratford Johns). It's partly due, I think, to the cutting of a novel down for TV (which has the effect of making it feel, at times, like crucial scenes have been lost, such that you're left rather stumped as to what the fuck is going on), but also just the way it's done -- with scenes that might be dreams or might be real, and with all manner of creepy portentuousness on the part of Brond -- lends it a deeply unsettling air of the irrational irrupting into the mundane -- hints of Dennis Potter or Harold Pinter. It feels like televisual slipstream in the "feeling very strange" sense.
One of my favourite scenes in it, which I was blathering to Paul about the other night and which he hunted down and emailed me, is a conversation between Robert and Brond as regards Primo (James Cosmo), a man-mountain of a "good soldier" who carries out Brond's dirty work from a misplaced sense of loyalty. As I watched it again, it still had the hairs on the back of my neck tingling, not least because I realised that much of these themes crept into VELLUM in the character of MacChuill:
BROND: You shouldn’t upset him like that. He’s a good man.
ROBERT: A good soldier. He told me before.
BROND: Oh yes. Kilts and trumpets at dawn. Loyal and brave. A Scottish Soldier.
ROBERT: How can he be so stupid? Doesn’t he know how much you despise him?
BROND: He has medals, did you know that? Soldiers get them. And he has some that are not given easily, or for nothing. He went to the wars and came home again. He’s a patriot. He’s been going to war a very long time. He’s the man who built the British Empire.
ROBERT: What’s the British Empire to do with this?
BROND: He’s fought against Napoleon, and in the Crimea. In the last war he fought in the desert. In 1916 he fought on the dry plains of the Somme and drowned in its mud when winter came. Kenya, Korea –- he’s been there. He’s still in Ireland. And only last week he came back from a little group of islands in the South Atlantic. And every time he came home, he found things were worse that when he’s gone away – but he had never learned to fight for himself.
I watched that and I thought to myself, and now he's in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The last episode ends with the song, "The Green Hills of Tyrol"