John doesn’t mind tending the seabird, whom they’ve named Archie, and Tom is enchanted; only Mary is wary, and later afraid, of the aggressive animal and what it’s doing to John. John ignores Mary’s pleas and threats: The bird has awakened his suppressed Celtic spirit.
Mary runs away with their son, while John draws closer to the obstreperous captive. But Archie is feral, and John’s fixation peaks when he, seeing Archie apparently trapped under a pier, has to plunge into the cold ocean to cut the bird free.
Fiennes plays John so credibly that John’s madness makes its own sense. Schlesinger’s portrayal of the betrayed Mary is a stinger, and Williams’ wide-eyed stare at life’s wonders is beguiling. Buddug Morgan plays a maddeningly giggly friend of the family; Karl Francis, the silent, abominable Uncle Ian in flashback, sings of demonolatry.
With splendid detailing, director Peter Markham imbues the searing telefilm with foreboding. Filmed exquisitely by the BBC Nature unit’s Ashley Rowe in photogenic North Wales, with insightful editing by Tim Kruydenberg, telefilm delivers troubling moods at even the calmest moments.
John Lunn’s score is appropriate, Ray Price’s design on-target.
The beckoning 1993 telefilm bowed theatrically in England in the fall as part of a BBC film retrospective. It also had a limited run in April in Manhattan at Joseph Papp’s Public Theater.