Sunday, January 31, 2021

Within These Walls: The Animals Went in Two by Two ( 1975 )

Within These Walls was an award-winning British television series about life "within the walls" of HM Prison Stone Park, a woman's prison. It ran for five seasons between 1974-1978. The beautiful English actress Googie Withers starred as prison governor Faye Boswell in the first three seasons and was later replaced by Katharine Blake and Sarah Lawson.

The episodes were all excellent productions with well-written scripts. Each lasted an hour and, since the inmates changed every episode, the stories featured a new drama surrounding one or two of the recent admittees. They also focused on the problems and personal lives of the regular staff at the prison. These regulars included Faye Boswell, deputy governor Charles Radley, chief officer Mrs. Armitage, prison doctor Peter Mayes, Assistant Governor Martha Parrish, and Miss Clarke. 

The Animals Went in Two by Two was an especially well-made episode that featured a thought-provoking script by Susan Pleat, who often wrote for the series. It addresses the need people have for relationships. As Dr. Peter Mayes explains, "We can't all be self-contained, nor is it right that we should be. People pair off. They need to couple. Adam and Eve....Noah's Ark...the animals went in two by two." 

This need to couple is not often satisfied as simply as one would expect. Nurse Jean Trevelyn ( Patricia Garwood ) finds it particularly disquieting to discover that her need for love draws her to other women...women who in turn need her. Sharon ( Ann Holloway ) is a young woman whom Jean meets in the hospital ward while visiting Claire ( Angela Thorne ), her former cellmate. Jean begins tutoring Sharon in reading and writing and, when Sharon comes to the main prison wing, she asks to room with Jean, who takes her under her wing. 

The other women in the prison whisper that Jean is a lesbian, but Jean herself hasn't come to terms with that label. When she found out that her former ( female ) employer wanted to run away with her she "hated her for it". Yet, she cares for Sharon. This is what makes Susan Pleat's script so good. Within These Walls often tackled issues that other series tended to shy away from. Lesbian relationships were common in all-women prisons and several other episodes of the show had lesbian characters, but The Animals Went in Two by Two is not about lesbianism, it is about relationship...and where and with whom people find it. The way people feel about others often cannot be described by a predefined label. 

One certainly cannot label Dr. Mayes' ( Denys Hawthorne ) desire. He wants to start a relationship with Miss Clarke ( Beth Harris ), the welfare officer. He's lonely, she's lonely, so why not pair off? But once again, matters are not that simple. Miss Clarke is middle-aged and has never been married. She looks at relationships in an intellectual way and does not feel she knows the doctor well enough to make love to him. "What does that mean, 'You don't know me well enough'?" asks Dr. Mayes, "Do I have to rack up points? A point a month, you reach twenty and you score?" He wants to find comfort in bed with her...and something more. When that doesn't work, he confesses, "I'm used to little trixi things, carefree, without a thought in their heads". This revelation causes Miss Clarke to pity him... It's good to see the vulnerable sides of the regular cast members. 

The Animals Went in Two by Two stands out not only for its script but for its fine direction by Tony Wharmby. He uses close-up shots almost entirely and this adds to the confined feeling of the prison. It also allows us to see how well the cast performs without the aid of additional dialogue. They use their eyes and subtle facial gestures to reveal their character's emotions. 

All of the principal players give impressive performances. Ann Holloway is excellent as the emotional Sharon; Angela Thorne subtly reveals the clinging nature of Claire, and Patricia Garwood gives a fine and tender performance as Jean. Denys Hawthorne is excellent as usual as Dr. Mayes, and Beth Harris is especially intriguing as the prim Miss Harris. Who would have guessed busy Miss Harris was such a lonely woman? Jean Holness also gives a good performance as Mrs. Evans, a nosy elderly prisoner. 

One need not be familiar with Within These Walls and its regular cast of characters to enjoy The Animals Went in Two by Two. It can easily stand on its own and could have aired as an individual play on Play for Today. The episode is available on DVD as part of the Within These Walls Collection ( Season 3, Episode 15 ) and also on Youtube. 

5 comments:

  1. Britbox occasionally reaches into the past to show a series from the 1970s. This sounds like one that would benefit from that exposure. I had never heard of Within These Walls, so thanks for letting me know about it and where to watch it.

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    1. It's a very good series, Rick, and well worth checking out. Of course, with its prison theme it isn't very cheerful but the episodes sure are engrossing!

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  2. I've just come across this blog by chance. Excellent writeup. This particular episode is one of my favourite pieces of television drama.

    I see the youtube link is no longer working. The video has been reuploaded. Link:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDX1iImZQ7o

    Ruby ƸӜƷ

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    1. Thank you for stopping by, Ruby! And thanks for the new link. Glad you enjoyed the read!

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  3. My pleasure. A thoroughly enjoyable read. Your review has really captured the beauty and essence of the episode.

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