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The Tenth Man (1988)  rating

Review: written 2007

Well told but low key TV version of Graham Greene novel

Excellent actors and well-conceived storyline elevate this movie from its ordinary TV movie of the month origins.

Set in WW II, Hopkins plays Cheval - an ordinary man, a lawyer, trying to live his life unobtrusively amid the occupation. His life is upturned when he is taken in along with a group of others by the Germans and put in jail, ready to be shot as an example to the resistance. When that time comes, he buys his life, giving all he has to another man who wishes to leave the house and wealth for his mother and sister Therese (Kirsten Scott-Thomas).

3 years later after the war, Hopkins returns to his house, and meets the sister, never letting on who he actually is. The lies threaten to unravel when Derek Jacobi then appears, announcing himself as Chavel.

The story is told in an economical way, leading to a relatively short 95 minute running time, and unfolds rather more like a play than a movie. The first act - the prison cell, where Chavel has the moment of weakness he will regret his whole life, The second act - Chavel after the war gains the trust of Therese. And then the third act - The stranger arrives and all the lies become a tortuous mess ultimately leading to a satisfying and inevitable conclusion. It is not really a war story, but a character study. What can you do if you have a moment of weakness with consequences that cannot be undone? When all you have is guilt, what can be done to make things right? As for the production in general, the music is often overdone, but the subtlety of the acting and fine French locations cover over the TV budget cracks.

A typically well told Graham Greene story, with Hopkins bringing real nuances to the role of Cheval, this deserves a wider audience than its TV movie label suggests, even if it is not up with the best Greene adaptations. It’s the acting that bumps this up a few points for me.

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