The Green Man (BBC/A&E, 1990)

"I will show you the true shape of your desire,"


So says Thomas Underhill to Maurice Allington, owner of the Green Man Inn. The trouble is that Underhill has been dead for over three hundred years.

Albert Finney stars in an adaptation of a Kingsley Amis novel, originally made for television, as Maurice, adrunk womanizing innkeeper who sees ghosts. No one believes him, except his new-agey daughter-in-law Lucy. His doctor, Jack, chalks it all up to drink.

Maurice takes it upon himself to find out more about this Thomas Underhill, off of whom he has been profiting for years as the Inn's "haunted" resident. Apparently, Underhill has a thing for teenage girls. Maurice's daughter Amy is only fourteen....

The atmosphere in The Green Man is gothic. The ancient inn is the perfect setting for a ghost story that recalls Henry James. The old rooms and the "haunted" mystique (played up in the inn's listings) add up to a very creepy story with excellent performances all around. A plot of this sort could easily have been a cliche, but director Elijah Moshinsky manages to keep it serious where necessary while providing comic elements in Maurice's sexual escapades.

At two and a half hours, this "ghost story for adults" feels a bit long-winded. Add to that an underlying religious redemption motif, and I was hard pressed at times to maintain my attention. I don't like messages in my movies, especially not ones where the main character uses a cross to defeat his pagan foe. But I was able to overlook these flaws in what is really a cracking good ghost story.

The filmmakers do not set out to make a scary film; they are satisfied with giving us a queer feeling, and perhaps a mild shiver. The resolution is a bit forced--albeit predictable--and the ending feels tacked on, but Finney, as always, gives a bravura performance that holds everything together, proving once again that he is one of the great character actors.

[Craig Clarke]