Did this murder change the history of our times?
It is always fascinating to reflect on the might-havebeens of history. If Hannibal had continued his march on Rome, if Franz Ferdinand hadn't gone to Sarajevo, if Nicholas hadn't married Alexandra . , . And if Giacomo Matteotti had not been murdered, would history have been very different?
Tuesday's Documentary considered The Matteotti Affair (BBC I) 50 years after the event. At the time when Benito Mussolini was using his strongarm boys to establish himself firmly in the saddle, Matteotti, a Socialist member of the Italian Parliament, was the only person who might have dislodged him.
Matteotti was an idealist and popular — too popular for II Duce. As producer Patricia Meehan suggested: "Rather like Henry II and Becket, Mussolini demanded to know who would rid him of this pestilent politician."
Shortly after Matteotti had made a powerful speech in Parliament. exposing the Fascist
election jerrymandering and general skulthuggery, he was abducted in broad daylight by a gang of fascist thugs in the street outside his house. Two months later the murdered body was found in a shallow grave 14 miles outside Rome.
In the outcry that followed, Italy and the world might have been saved. But local and international pressures were just not great enough. Mussolini was brought within a hairsbreadth of political extinction . . . but the hairsbreadth held.
Subdued by bully-boy methods of persuasion, Italy plunged into Fascism. If . . . if
. . if . If Matteotti had lived, could II Duce have held Italy? And if Italian Fascism had died a natural death, what about its unholy offshoot, National Socialism?, The BBC film was disappointing. It was a whimper rather than a bang. There were extracts from an Italian feature film on the murder, with actor Franco Nero, who looks uncannily like Matteotti; and these extracts were gripping enough.
For the rest, Times' correspondent drove in his car round Rome, pointing out the relevant scenes, with guidebook accuracy but little drama. When he leaned out of the car window and pointed to a grassy bank by the ditch where the body had been discovered, he might as well have been pointing out the local flora, for all the frisson he caused. A flicker of polite interest, no more,
Nichols looked too relaxed in his open car, his red sports shirt bespeaking a carefree drive to the country. What had happened to Matteotti was 50 years ago, and didn't seem to matter very much now.
The Prison (Thames TV, Armchair Cinema series) was specially made for television. It was typically British of Thames to choose a French work by that essentially French writer Simenon. Simenon is not only, or even mainly, the begetter of Maigret; his other works are more subtle, studies in psychological realism.
There are French authors who are untranslatable in the profoundest sense and Simenon is one of them. Rupert Davies
got away , with Maigret, but there was an element lacking in Geoffrey Gilbert's production of "The Prison."
Simenon himself, author of nearly 300 works, considered this novel to he among his three greatest. Alain Poitaud, a successful, trendy young businessman is right in the middle of the high life of swinging Paris. One day he returns home to find a police inspector waiting to tell him that his sisterin-law has been murdered by his wife.
The sister-in-law was Poitaud's mistress, but it was not on his account that murder had been done. Both women had loved a far from trendy, scruffy, paunchy, middle-aged photographer, etc., etc.
The novel showed Poitaud toppled out of his dream world, pushed to the limits of endurance; the film appeared fascinated by the external signs of luxury hying. The camera gloated over Poitaud's penthouse flat and his, oh, so trendy male-model clothes. The emotional atmosphere which was almost suffocating in the novel, was lost in the abundance of detail.
In the film one was almost unaware of a man struggling towards self-awareness, stripping the glossy veneer away from reality. The young National Theatre star James Laurenson did what he could with the part of Poitaud, but he wasn't helped by the camera.
"The Prison" might well have been the alternative title for Hard Labour, which got a second showing in the Play for Today series (BBC 1). It was "a film about ordinary everyday things" produced by Tony Garnett and devised and directed by Mike Leigh, whose film "Bleak Moments" was one of the big successes of the 1972 London Film Festival.
"Hard Labour" invites an obvious comparison with "The Family," the BBC's saga of real life from Reading. The former found moving, funny and sad; the latter I find embarrassing. Whether the former is really as true to working-class reality as the latter is another question;
one can't dispute the credentials of "The Family" in that respect.
Tony Garnett's "Hard Labour" perhaps erred on the side of pessimism: do people really live in the sort of dull purgatory that he assigns them to? "Hell is other people," Sartre said, and this must be Garnett's philosophy.
In this play, people suffer from being together in close proximity, yet unable to communicate. Only strangers can talk to each other, because of the functional relationships between them. Lack of communication within families breeds hostility, resentment, dull hate.
Stereotyped patterns emerge: the husband, tyrant at home (to his wife, but despised by his daughter), but at the mercy of others in his world, the tradesmen who sell him short or provide him with badly made boots, the little bosses who threaten his job. He is their prisoner and the prisoner of his own prejudices and fears.
His wife, all pinched face and chilblains (beautifully played by Liz Smith), docile drudge, undemanding, unexpecting, a "thing" to her family and to the woman who employs her as a cleaner (in whose home the same pattern is repeated), uttering no complaint until inside the confessional she gropes for help.
"I ... just don't love ... people . . . enough," she falters to the priest, who is not so much unsympathetic as helpless. There was a world of suffering in that cry for help, but what can the priest do?
In this comedic humaine people prey on each other, cannibalise each other; know that they're doing so and feel guilt. Tony Garnett shows an immense sympathy with his characters — but don't they ever know any joy?