What does it take to make a good man do something evil?
Matthew Rhys (of the upcoming FX drama "The Americans") stars as two nearly identical strangers who find out the answer in "The Scapegoat" (7 p.m. CT Jan. 22, Ovation; 2.5 stars out of 4).
It's 1952 and John Standing plans to get away from it all after being fired from the prep school where he taught Greek. He's drowning his sorrows in a British pub when he runs into his mirror image, Johnny Spence, a conniving man of privilege who wants to escape his responsibilities as well, but for darkly different reasons.
"Bloody hell! You're not the devil by any chance, are you?" Johnny asks John. The wealthy, wicked Johnny proceeds to get the teacher drunk and by morning has disappeared, exchanging his own clothes with those of his doppleganger.
John is forced to take over Johnny's life--Johnny's driver/babysitter believes he's hungover and putting him on when John says he is not Johnny. Back the Johnny's mansion no one believes John either. As Johnny, he has to deal with his double's bad management of his failing family business, a precocious child (Eloise Webb), grudge-holding sister (Jodhi May), unstable wife (Alice Orr-Ewing) and scorned mistress (Sheridan Smith)--who happens to be married to Johnny's brother.
None of these folks like Johnny much, and for good reason. He's an ass.
Rhys brilliantly differentiates the two men, showing John's goodness and Johnny's immorality, and is backed by a great supporting cast. Dame Eileen Atkins is at her most imperial as his opium-addicted mother, Lady Spence, and Andrew Scott, as his hen-pecked and ignored brother, Paul, seems significantly more subdued than as Moriarty in PBS' "Sherlock."
Based on a Daphne du Maurier novel, this made-for-TV movie strains believability at times--really, no one believes John when he says he isn't Johnny, even though he obviously knows nothing about the family?
Still, "The Scapegoat" is a fascinating exploration of the dark side of the self.
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