The Forsyte Saga: To Let (2003)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

 

Forgiveness is not a virtue in the Forsyte family. Ever since an old scandal arouse between Irina (Gina McKee) and her husband's disgraced cousin Jolyon (Rupert Graves), the two households have been torn apart by bitter rivalry. Soames (Damian Lewis) is now the proud but insecure father of a beautiful little girl. Irina, by contrast, has a charming young son around Fleur's own age. The worst nightmare of their estranged parents can be the two coming together but it happens one warm summer evening at a birthday party for Great Aunt Forsyte. Irina's stepdaughter June (Gillian Kearney) has brought the boy for a call on his aunt, little knowing the rest of the family have gathered for birthday festivities. Leaving the children to play together in the garden, the event ends badly.

 

The impression the children made on one another lasts into adulthood when ten years later they are again reunited by chance at a local gallery in London. Jon (Lee Williams) and Fleur (Emma Griffiths Malin) are utterly smitten. Their shaken parents hope nothing will come of this rapid introduction but Fleur takes matters into her own hands. Inviting herself to their cousin's home the week she knows Jon will be staying, she rapidly gains his affection. His older half-sister (Amanda Ryan) knows this will tear already fragile family foundations apart and pleads with their father to get to the bottom of it. His response is to approach Soames openly, asking him to rein in his "uncontrollable daughter." Unwilling to believe Fleur is serious in her actions but also unable to deny her anything, Soames instead attempts to gain her interest in charming young Michael Mont (Oliver Milburn), a war veteran.

 

In the meantime Soame's wife Annette (Beatriz Batarda) has become romantically involved with his sister Winifred's suitor. Though married and faithful to her husband, Winifred (Amanda Root) takes pleasure in the company of a charming foreigner (Michael Maloney). What unfolds is yet another chapter in the torrid saga of the Forsytes. It's crafted well enough that it can be viewed a long time after the first; I started remembering plot lines and events as the story unfolded, alluding to past indiscretions. The leading characters are still Irina and Soames, even though their children take center stage. Old rivalries and wounds die hard and the most interesting is the relationship between them. Soames feels a sense of guilt over what happened to drive Irina away, and in turn she also feels a twinge of responsibility. But like its predecessor, The Forsyte Saga 2 embraces the wrongful philosophies that morality is second to love.

 

When Irina hesitates in telling her son of her disgraceful past life, Jolyon forcibly reminds her she has "nothing to be ashamed about." Winifred, when learning her charming foreign friend is courting Annette Forsyte, angrily tells her husband she's sorry she remained faithful to him. There is some talk of mistresses and several scenes reference what Soames did to Irina ("took her forcibly and without her consent"). Annette tells Fleur that she will find security in marriage and must "look elsewhere" to fulfill her passions. Her affair leaves her husband miserable but unable to divorce her because of the resulting scandal of losing two wives in adultery. The adulterers are seen together fooling around in bed (they're playing with one another more than anything); in an unsurprising twist, Annette is dumped in order for him to go back to courting Winifred, but then joins him later in Paris. I was pleased when Jon resisted the temptation to sleep with Fleur in a cottage when they were alone. She sleeps upstairs, he stays downstairs on the couch, despite her invitation.

 

I was not happy, therefore, when "temptation became too hard to resist" and they committed fornication in his father's summer house. The scene is fairly graphic and lengthy. The first two installments were very good. They had decent morals and were interesting without being blunt. The second two began to waver dangerously and then quickly demolished all positive points earlier outlined. There is some mild language (one use of Christ's name, minor profanities and abuse of deity) and violence (a man is killed in an automobile accident, Jon becomes enraged at Soames and slams him against the fireplace mantle). I had the hope the younger Forsytes could erase the sins of the elder through their behavior and conduct, but am afraid of what future installments might involve. The acting was very good and the costuming department outdid themselves... too bad most of the gowns are highly unflattering to the actresses.

 

Soames is very much a puzzling enigma and once again is played to be the victim. He does have very brutal, obvious flaws but the way people treat him is abominable. All he wants is love, as he points out to his daughter: not to crawl on bloody hands and knees in the hope the woman he loves will smile at him. When Fleur becomes upset, she punishes her father by refusing to speak to him. Annette is sensitive to this and tries to repair the damage, with little success. The film does have a bittersweet conclusion, and is arguably the best moment in all the Forsyte installments... when Soames and Irina gently forgive one another and part company with a handshake. But the illuminating light of those few precious moments is not enough to overshadow the flaws.