Russell Baker on The Forsyte Saga, Series II
Former New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Russell Baker has been the host of Masterpiece Theatre since 1993. Mr. Baker introduces each program episode, and his personally researched and written comments add context and background to our understanding of the film we're about to watch. His comments frequently provide a uniquely American perspective on the mores and lifestyles of the British.
More commentaries by Russell Baker, as well as commentaries by his predecessor in the hosting chair, Alistair Cooke, can be found for select programs in The Archive.
Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3
Episode 1 - Plot Revealed Below!
Soames Forsyte is a man with a compulsion to own things -- and not just fine paintings and elegant houses.
As tonight's story begins, he has a young daughter named Fleur, and he is obviously determined to own her, too, as he owns her mother, Annette. He acquired Annette for the purpose of bearing him a son. But the life-threatening ordeal of Fleur's birth has left Annette unable to have more children. As we shall very quickly see, Soames may think he owns Fleur, but Fleur obviously owns him.
The story we begin tonight is based on the third volume of John Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga, a novel titled To Let. For those who may have missed the shows based on the first two books, I should sketch just a little background.
In his youth, Soames fell in love with and married an impoverished young woman named Irene. She had cautioned him that she didn't love him, but he was obsessed with a need to possess her -- so obsessed that she ran away from him. Soames and Irene have now been divorced for years. Irene has married Soames's cousin Jolyon, an artist with children of his own. Together Irene and Jolyon have a son, Jon. As we resume, Soames hasn't seen Irene for years, but events are about to bring them close again, which can only bring trouble to their children, Jon and Fleur.
First of three episodes, The Forsyte Saga, Series II.
Although John Galsworthy won the Nobel Prize for Literature -- largely on the strength of The Forsyte Saga -- the work has fallen out of favor with modern critics. Whether or not it is high literature, it is certainly a page-turner, and there are plenty of pages to turn once you become addicted. The entire work is composed of six volumes containing some three-quarters of a million words, and the complete tale continues well beyond the scope of the story we're telling in the present series.
These installments are based on Galsworthy's third novel, To Let. All the books, however, are held together by the central character Soames -- and it's interesting, if you start at Book I, to watch Galsworthy's view of Soames undergo a radical change. In volume I, which he titled The Man of Property, Galsworthy paints Soames as a thoroughly unlikable materialist. In volume III, which we're now watching, Galsworthy comes close to treating him as a sentimental old dear.
It may be noteworthy that between volume I and volume III, Galsworthy had made a great deal of money and become a man of property himself.
For Masterpiece Theatre, I'm Russell Baker. Good night.
Episode 2 - Plot Revealed Below!
The Forsytes are a family who can nourish an old scandal until it festers and ruins the lives of people too young ever to have heard of it. Young Fleur Forsyte does not know, for example, that long before she was born, her father, Soames, had been married to a woman named Irene. Nor does she know that Irene had detested Soames and that they went through a terribly bitter divorce. This ancient history suddenly becomes very pertinent when Jon, the young man with whom Fleur has fallen in love, turns out to be Irene's son -- and of course he has never heard of the scandal either. What makes the situation doubly poisonous is that Irene is married to Soames's cousin Jolyon, an artist of notably gentle spirit by Forsyte standards.
And so the young lovers, Jon and Fleur, are caught in a net of their parents' hatred of which they are entirely unaware. Their parents are all too aware. They have forgotten nothing and forgiven nothing, and they feel obliged to honor their antique grudges by destroying the love between their children.
We begin tonight with another scandalous family member, Montague Dartie. Dartie is married to Soames's sister, Winifred, who loves him, perhaps because his rascality is exhilarating in the stifling world of the Forsytes.
Second episode, The Forsyte Saga, Series II.
Episode 3 - Plot Revealed Below!
Love has a bleak and poisonous history in the Forsyte family, and this dark past has now come back to haunt Fleur Forsyte and her cousin Jon. The two have fallen in love not knowing that Jon's mother, Irene, and Fleur's father, Soames, were once married. After their divorce, Irene married Soames's cousin Jolyon, Jon's father. And Soames married the young French woman Annette, Fleur's mother.
Jon and Fleur, oblivious to this titillating ancient history, still don't realize that their parents' bitterness runs dangerously deep -- so deep that Soames, Irene, and Jolyon will do almost anything to destroy the love affair between their children.
Last time we saw Jolyon Forsyte tell Fleur a secret he has withheld from his own family: He is dying. He seemed to be asking Fleur to show kindness to a dying father by giving up the man she loves.
Soames's way of influencing a woman in love is more cunning. He has introduced another attractive young man into Fleur's life, a youthful and titled war hero named Michael Mont. As the story resumes tonight, Michael is paying a call.
Concluding episode, The Forsyte Saga, Series II.
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