Brimstone and Treacle Richard Loncraine

Drifter Martin Taylor (Sting) connives his way into the home of Thomas Bates (Denholm Elliott), an upright publisher of religious texts, and his devout wife Norma (Joan Plowright), who both care for their invalid daughter Patricia (Suzanna Hamilton). Though Thomas is suspicious of Martin, Norma allows the charming young man to stay in their home after he agrees to take care of Patricia, claiming to be her old boyfriend. Martin's arrival disturbs this unhappy household. Norma is finally free to leave the house and enjoy herself in town. Thomas, however, struggles with the guilt of being responsible for Patricia's paralysing car accident. Though outwardly wholesome, Thomas is secretly tempted and repulsed by lust As he and Norma argue over Martin, their guest takes advantage of their invalid daughter, who cannot speak a word. Brimstone and Treacle is the celluloid remake of a 1976 teleplay that also starred Denholm Elliot. Both productions were written by Dennis Potter, the acclaimed British writer who penned Pennies From Heaven and The Singing Detective (just redone as a Robert Downey film). Given the rape of the daughter, this film was banned from the BBC, and today remains unsettling. But the film feels too much like a play. Potter infuses his characters with powerful dialogue but also saddles them with offstage asides that belong in a theatre, not a cinema. Director Loncraine fails to exploit the versatility of the movie camera (movement, angles, composition, lighting and colour) to create mood and explore characterisation and many scenes look stilted. To his credit, Sting holds his own against heavyweight actors Elliot and Plowright, who are both sharp. Sting's character is wicked, representing the darkness in Potter's intriguing good versus evil allegory. The soundtrack, featuring songs by the Police, the Go-Go's and Squeeze, suits the tone of the movie and is not a cynical marketing ploy. Brimstone and Treacle remains a curiosity, a good play turned into an uneven movie. (MGM)