Executive Producer: David Thompson, Rebecca Eaton, Jonathan Powell
Producer: Gareth Neame
Director: Tim Fywell
WOMAN IN WHITE/Intro by Russell Baker
In the middle of the nineteenth century, Wilkie Collins wrote two mystery stories that are classics. One was "The Moonstone," and the other was "The Woman in White."
People still argue about which is better, but Collins had no doubt. He ordered that his tombstone should say: "Author of ‘The Woman in White,'" and it does.
Legend has it that he got the idea one night during a stroll with some friends. Passing a London garden they heard a scream from inside, then saw a beautiful young woman -- dressed in white -- dash out of the gate.
She looked at them in terror, then disappeared back into the shadows.
Collins was a good friend of Charles Dickens, who asked him to write a novel quickly for a new magazine he was starting. Dickens was going to write one too, and did. His was "A Tale of Two Cities." Collins's was "The Woman in White."
Writer's block must not have existed in those days.
Both books were published as long magazine serials. "The Woman in White" runs over 500 pages in book form.
We are presenting it tonight in a single two-hour dramatization.
At the start, it will help you to know that Marian and Laura, the two sisters you're about to meet, are only half-sisters. Marian has been left penniless. Laura will inherit a fortune, but she can't claim it before coming of age.
Meanwhile, Laura and Marian are living under the care of a hypochondriac old uncle at an estate called Limmeridge in the North of England.
Now, The Woman in White.
WOMAN IN WHITE/Extro by Russell Baker
You'll notice that Count Fosco apparently gets away unpunished.
That's the impression our film leaves, but Wilkie Collins has more to say.
In the book, the Count disappears from London, apparently safe from Hartright…only to turn up dead in the morgue in Paris.
The story of how he got there is off the main line of the book's plot, and would have taken another hour to show on film.
As Collins created him, Fosco is a huge fat man of irresistible charm, and cold-blooded treachery.
Collins said he made him fat to get away from the conventional idea of the villain as a thin man.
In Italy, Fosco has betrayed a secret society he belonged to, and its members have sworn to track him down and kill him.
They catch up with him and do the job in Paris, far away from Hartright and Laura. In the book we last see him lying on a slab in the morgue being stared at by people amazed by the size of him.
Mystery-story fans find Count Fosco one of the most fascinating criminals in literature. There are certainly few who have as much charm.
Some speculate that Collins himself was too fond of him to see him destroyed in plain view, as it were, by Hartright. So he elected to do it offstage, out of sight in faraway France.
For Masterpiece Theatre, I'm Russell Baker. Goodnight.
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