Summer’s Lease (1989)

“We hear you’re going bush in Tuscany.”

In Summer’s Lease, Molly Pargeter (Susan Fleetwood) responds to an advertisement for a villa for rent in Tuscany. The advert stresses that the villa is ideal for a family with three girls–and since the Pargeters have 3 girls, Molly feels that the villa is somehow destined for them. Molly overrules her husband’s disinterest and reluctance and insists they lease the villa for the summer. Husband Hugh (Michael Pennington) doesn’t want to leave his mistress, so he resents the holiday and sees it as a test of his endurance. Molly’s elderly father, lascivious columnist Haverford Downs (John Gielgud) wheedles his way into the family holiday–much to everyone’s dismay.

When living in the house that belongs to another, there’s a temptation to begin assuming you understand its previous occupants. Molly immediately feels a bond to her absent landlord, Mr. Kettering. His taste in art echoes her own, and Molly becomes so curious about Kettering, she decides that she’d like to meet him. But there’s a mystery afoot. Mr. Fosdyke (Leslie Phillips), a member of the bizarre ex-pat British community appears in Kettering’s place to collect the rent, and no one seems to know where the Ketterings have gone. When Molly discovers a cryptic note hidden in one of Kettering’s books, her curiosity is piqued.

The mystery of the Ketterings’ disappearance is set against the domestic life of the Pargeters. Hugh’s affair causes disaffection and lack of involvement with his family, and as a result, Molly becomes distracted by her interest in the Ketterings. Her marriage problems are too elusive and painful to face, so instead she embarks on solving the mystery at hand.

Based on the novel by John Mortimer, Summer’s Lease is composed of four 55-minute episodes. This BBC production is well acted for the most part–although several of the Italian characters are a little overdone. John Gielgud as Molly’s old rake father delivers the best performance, and adds some tasty, witty moments to the film. He can be relied on to say the most insufferably inappropriate things at precisely the most embarrassing moments. As he wisely observes, “the truth is probably the least important thing about us.” The main problem with Summer’s Lease is found with the mystery portion of this drama. The mystery drives the plot forward, and yet it remains overly complicated, muddled and ultimately unsatisfying. But in spite of its flaws, for lovers of British television, Summer’s Lease is worth watching. From director Martyn Friend.


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