PrintE-mail Written by J. R. Southall

There’s a huge amount of autobiographical content in almost all of Kingsley Amis’ books, in most cases involving a thinly disguised central character through which the author would either provide himself a certain wish-fulfilment, or later on teach a life lesson or two. Screen adaptations have generally been faithful to the spirit of Amis’ work; the succession of boozy, lecherous rogues standing in for the author has included Ian Carmichael, Peter Sellars and Oliver Reed. Albert Finney’s 1990 turn as the whiskey-soaked, womanising host of The Green Man inn, in a three-part BBC adaptation, ranks easily among the best of these.

The plot is not entirely unpredictable, and follows two complementary strands. In one, Maurice Allington has seduced the wife of a friend and is now attempting to persuade her into a three-way sexual liaison along with him and his wife, while in the other, the ghosts whose stories Allington has partially based the success of the inn upon turn out to be rather more authentic than he had supposed. When one particular spirit materialises with what would appear to be a message of some kind, the two plotlines come together in a manner only Amis could have conceived.

The script by Malcolm Bradbury, who had already proven his comedy credentials with Blott on the Landscape and Porterhouse Blue, heads up a very classy all-film production, with Finney’s naturally sleazy yet blunderingly naive charm capturing perfectly Amis’ protagonist. Bradbury and director Elijah Moshinsky are well aware of how difficult it is to capture the author’s complicated prose style on screen, instead settling for an easygoing pace that allows the story to unfold carefully and inclusively; the humour comes out of the characters, rather than feeling forced into them. Linda Marlowe and Sarah Berger as the two women in Allington’s life faultlessly convey the condescension and frustration that he engenders in those who know him well enough.

Beyond the main cast, there are some excellently judged turns from some familiar faces, notably Michael Hordern as the father whose sudden death is the catalyst for events, and Nickolas Grace as the highly unconventional priest, just one of several areas in which the serial becomes laugh out loud funny. The majority of the production aims instead – and very successfully – at capturing a dry, wit-infused bonhomie, and generates an empathy with even the most odious of characters, the three episodes flying by despite the initial lack of incident.

Kingsley Amis is one of those authors it’s possible to thoroughly enjoy even when you really should know better, and although The Green Man doesn’t have the charm of Only Two Can Play or the zip of Lucky Jim, it is certainly among the very finest adaptations of his work, and one of the most faithful thematically. There’s a certain amount of self-deprecation in Amis’ otherwise thoroughly over-confident prose that sets him above many of his contemporaries, and while The Green Man doesn’t work as a horror story, nor does it try to; its success comes almost in spite of its genre inflections, which serve as a window-dressing to the substance within. A most welcome reissue.

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