Review: The Scapegoat (2012)


Review by: MoonCroaker
SCUM Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

It was grownup family movie night at the homestead as my mother, wife and sat down to watch something we could all like. With very different tastes running from murder mysteries, to sci-fi and chick flicks, there is hardly any film produced that we can all agree on watching. But, we settled on this one. Given that the period setting is 1952 and the tone that of a mystery, my mother was on board. My wife also liked the mystery aspect. I thought I’d be the hero by finding a movie they would like, but wouldn’t really engage me. I ended up being surprised.

The film starts in 1952 at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Two identical looking men accidentally meet in a pub. One (John Standing played by Matthew Rhys) is a penniless teacher of Greek. The other (Johnny Spence) comes from a wealthy industrialist family. Spence is fleeing his personal and professional problems, having failed to secure a contract that would save his floundering family business. Meeting Standing, Spence sees a chance for them to switch personas. He gets Standing drunk, and when he wakes up he finds that Spence has left with his clothes and his identity, forcing Standing to adopt his persona and also his considerable set of problems. Standing thus becomes the scapegoat for Spence’s failures.

When the family chauffeur comes to pick up Standing (who everyone now assumes is Spence), he decides to play along so he can track down Spence and recover his own identity and life. Instead, Standing finds himself in the midst of a dysfunctional family with a Gordian knot of issues. Spence’s mother is a morphine addict, his wife is neglected, his sister hates him for a past slight, AND he’s having an affair with his brother’s wife who also lives in the same mansion. On top of that, stressed by the environment he mistakenly confirms that he had gotten the business contract signed and the family business has been saved.

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There is an interesting but unsubtle parallel metaphor with the Coronation since Elizabeth didn’t necessarily want to become Queen but she had no choice due to the death of her father. Standing (as Spence) decides to do the same and set right all the matters that his alter ego ruined. He starts with saving his marriage, distancing himself from his sister-in-law, encouraging his bedridden mother to drop morphine and actively participate in the family, patch up relations with his brother and sister and of course save the business. Its quite a to-do list of achievements and one can cynically be forgiven for thinking that Standing is some kind of saintly miracle worker, but its heartwarming and heroic to see him in action.

As Standing becomes more comfortable and the family starts warming to him, the real Spence returns briefly and is jealous to see how well Standing is managing his old life. Without spoiling anything, the real Spence attempts a murder and some other challenging situations present themselves before the film concludes neatly resolving all of these matters.

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Being a British film, the acting is superb and understated. Rhys does a great job of displaying the contrasting personalities of the two characters that he plays. Some characters did seem superfluous and the movie veers towards the implausible on a few occasions. On top of that, the pacing is uneven, and the production has the look of a British TV drama.

All that said, it is a low-key, satisfying and entertaining film, something all three of us very different movie watchers could agree to liking. And that by itself is no small feat!

I’d give this film 3.5 stars. Not memorable enough for a 2nd viewing, but definitely worth seeing once.

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About The Author

MoonCroaker loves movies, superheroes (especially his beloved DC Comics characters), and more so loves movies about superheroes (unfortunately, these days not DC). Long-time favorites include James Bond. Far from being a film connoisseur with discerning taste he will watch mostly anything and has only walked out of a cinema once in his lifetime. That movie happened to be Pulp Fiction, a film he later came to like a lot. It just goes to show the soundness of his general judgment.

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