Thursday, October 3, 2019

The Spoils of Poynton ( 1970 )

Adele Gereth ( Pauline Jameson ) has amassed antique treasures that she and her late husband collected from around the world. She stores all of these in her Jacobian estate "Poynton". She hopes to pass Poynton and its furnishings to her son Owen ( Ian Ogilvy ) and the woman he chooses as a bride, but when she meets his choice, Mona ( Diane Fletcher ), she is sorely disappointed and refuses to part with the possessions. Mona, who had not the slightest interest in the antiquities, now feels rebuffed and is angry towards Owen for not taking her side and waging a legal war against his mother.
Witnessing this family squabble - and unwittingly taking part in it -  is Fleda Vetch ( Gemma Jones ), a minister's daughter whom Adele has taken under her wing. Adele wants to see Fleda become mistress of Poynton in place of Mona, and things begin to go her way until Fleda complicates matters when she lets pride rule over love. 

Henry James' novel "The Spoils of Poynton" first appeared in print in 1896 when it was published in serial format in The Atlantic Monthly under the title "The Old Things". Henry James' most famous works are three novels that have been frequently adapted to film and television: "The Turn of the Screw" ( filmed as The Innocents in 1963 ), "Washington Square" ( better known as The Heiress to film fans ), and "The Aspern Papers". He wrote many many fine stories in addition to these that were also adapted into films, including The Wings of the Dove, The Portrait of a Lady, The Golden Bowl, and The Bostonians. 
The Spoils of Poynton is an excellent adaptation featuring some top-notch performances from Ian Ogilvy ( The Saint ) and Gemma Jones ( The Duchess of Duke Street ). The BBC made a number of really rich television productions in the 1970s and this one is truly a gem. It was like capturing a fine performance of a great play on film that can be enjoyed over and over again. 
Pauline Jameson is excellent as Adele Gareth. Her character is haughty, terribly houseproud and materialistic and yet Pauline makes her endearing to watch. Young Fleda takes a liking to her instantly and they share a bond in their love of beautiful objects. Fleda would make an ideal match to Adele's son Gareth and Adele well knows this. She hopes that love will blossom between the two and, to her good fortune, it does. 

Fleda Vetch is such a darling character but one cannot help feel that she muddles up matters too much out of her sense of righteousness and decency. She loves Owen dearly and he loves her, too, yet she insists that he return to Mona to patch things up properly and therefore smashes to pieces her future, Owen's future, Adele's happiness and Poynton's legacy. 
The Spoils of Poynton can be difficult to watch because it is hard to see people wrestle over material objects with such passion. Foolish Mona has no interest in the household treasures whatsoever and yet she allows her relationship with Owen to be ruined in an argument over who will get possession of them. It's quite a fascinating story. And interwoven through it is this growing romance between Owen and Fleda that spurs the story onward. The materials themselves act only as a catalyst to all the events that happen to the four main characters. 

BBC made a number of film adaptations of Henry James novels and if this one interests you, then be sure to check out the equally engrossing mini-series The Golden Bowl ( 1972 ) starring Daniel Massey and Jill Townsend.


  1. I will be looking for this one! I loved Gemma Jones in THE DUCHESS OF DUKE STREET and have enjoyed other adaptations of James's novels. Speaking of Jill Townsend, I always remember her best as Elizabeth in the original POLDARK.

    1. Yes, Townsend was great in Poldark and I liked her even better in The Golden Bowl where she is the main character. If you cannot find The Spoils of Poynton on DVD, then here is the link to the first part which was posted on Youtube. I'm not sure if this link works since it is unlisted, but you can give it a try. The opening theme is beautiful, too. A Rachmaninoff piece I believe. British television in the 1970s outputed so many good shows.