So, since we’re not that far past Valentine’s Day (mostly), Admin and I thought it might be fun to analyze something with a little romance. We’ve gone back to one of our favourites, the “Kiss of Life” episode of the BBC series “Sensitive Skin” (2007). Mr. Malahide plays Lenny Richards, the supremely confident, hot shot lawyer who’s about to get Roger Dorkins (Nicholas Jones) acquitted of fraud charges, pro bono. And this is despite the fact Roger used enjoy bullying Lenny (who has a clubfoot) when they were both at school. Why the unexpected kindness? It’s all because Lenny is still carrying a blazing torch for Veronica (Maggie Steed), Roger’s wife, whom he had an affair with years ago and has never forgotten. Veronica has been avoiding Lenny up until now, but after a meeting to discuss Roger’s case, he finally manages to convince her to go to lunch with him – with some half-hearted resistance on her part. But who can blame her for succumbing to his charms?
Admin: Oh, I wouldn’t blame her at all. And what a joy it is to see two such amazing talents as Patrick Malahide and Maggie Steed together onscreen. And what better for a wee bit late for Valentine’s Day post than revisiting these two wonderful characters rediscovering their romance a wee bit later in life. 😉
RF: In the following lunch scene, we begin to get an understanding of Veronica and Lenny’s past history and why they still feel so strongly connected with each other, even after so many years apart.
Veronica: Do you eat like this every day?
Lenny: You can’t run a rocket on unleaded. And I can’t run this [indicates head] on a bit of limp lettuce and some coleslaw.
RF: So in other words, Lenny has taken her to a rather swank place, and Veronica is already impressed. Note that there appears to be a champagne bottle in an ice bucket by his elbow. Plus Lenny is keeping the charm offensive going from where it started in his office – another scene that we enjoyed quite a lot. He’s also not afraid to do a bit of bragging.
Admin: It is a pretty impressive spread, though. I love how he turns it to a bit of bragging. They say fish is a brain food, so a high powered QC would more than need it.
RF: Maybe Limbo Ridley has his lunches there, too. 😉
Lenny: Besides, I’ve gone for the healthy option. Very nice bit of monkfish underneath this gratin.
Veronica: Your father would be proud.
Lenny [doubtfully]: Mm.
Veronica: Is he…
Lenny: Years ago. Heart attack.
Veronica: Still, he got to see your success.
Lenny: Not that I bothered to show him.
RF: Now we’re starting to get the idea that not only does Veronica know something of Lenny’s history, she was also very intimately acquainted with it at one time – not much of a surprise after the previous office scene, but still interesting. And Veronica’s manner with Lenny seems a lot more relaxed and engaged than she was with Roger in their previous scene, where she seemed to find him more annoying than anything else.
Admin: Poor Lenny, though, loses quite a bit of his stride with the sudden allusion to his father. But, yeah, she does seem very relaxed and seems to find it comforting that Lenny’s father should have been very proud of his son.
RF: Yeah, it does seem that Lenny and his father had a falling-out at some point over his choice of profession, with Lenny deciding to go his own way under his own steam. And I think the line about his father’s heart attack is meant to foreshadow what happens later in the episode, too.
Veronica: No, well… Well, no, it must be difficult. I mean, I’m surprised that you even agreed to see me.
Lenny [surprised]: Why?
Veronica: Oh, come on. Is there anyone else in here who knows that you’re the son of a chip shop owner?
RF: Hard to say if Lenny is ashamed of his background, or maybe just doesn’t go out of his way to enlighten people about it. At any rate, he doesn’t seem to know what to reply to Veronica, masking his hesitation by using his napkin. However, his surprise at her surprise that he’d see her is genuine. After all, he’s been gazing longingly at her picture since 1967, so of course he’d want to see her. 😉 Also, the fact that he’s such an extremely successful lawyer now after such humble beginnings suggests something about his drive and ambition.
Admin: I suppose he might be a bit embarrassed should the other QCs learn of his humble beginnings, but I think it is more likely that he just resents the hardships he had to go through as a kid. You know, it suddenly reminds me of how Charles Dickens never got over having to work in a boot blacking bottling company pasting labels on the bottles as a youth. 🙂
Lenny: Of course, you realize all this is… down to you?
Veronica: Oh, no. [Laughing] Don’t start that.
RF: Aha, so this is something he’s brought up before… and Veronica still gets embarrassed about it…
Admin: Clearly he’s been one who wears his heart on his sleeve for some time now.
Lenny: I’m serious. Sports day, 19… 61? Fifty yards freestyle, first heat. What happened to me?
Veronica: You got into a little bit of difficulty.
Lenny [incredulously]: Difficulty??
Lenny: I was lying at the bottom of the pool with my eyes popping out like Peter Lorre. And no one had even seen me go down. Well, why would they? I mean, what’s to see? Some scrawny little runt with a club foot. I mean, people used to smell me before they saw me, I stank so much of fish and chips. And so I lay there. And I thought that my only future was to watch the batter oil seep out of my pores.
Lenny: And then, all of a sudden, there was this flash of something overhead and a crack of bubbles and… there was your face. And up I went. And here I am.
[They both pause for a moment, regarding each other.]
RF: I like how Lenny keeps very intense eye contact with Veronica throughout the telling of this story, with the telling increasing in intensity as he goes. He ends with a very soft-voiced, intimate tone, despite the horrible childhood experience he’s recounting. This is where we begin to see just how strong his attraction to, and feelings for, Veronica are. As one of the few kind people in his childhood/young adulthood (we’ve already heard how Roger used to bully young Lenny), he was probably adoring her from afar long before this incident. And it’s very evident that he still adores her now. There’s also a lot of contrast going on between the hopeless, desperate, near-drowning clubfooted son of the chip-shop owner and the well-dressed, successful, confident lawyer sitting across from Veronica now.
Admin: It is rather hard to believe he ever could have been the runt, but it certainly seems that was the case at least as far as schoolmates like Roger saw it. The disgusted tone he registers when talking about batter oil seeping through pores is pretty evocative — it puts you off fish and chips. 😮 I think we also get a little hint at just how good Lenny must be in court because he really does know how to draw one in. No wonder Veronica was hesitant to hear that story again, she knows what sort of effect it has.
RF: It’s too bad we didn’t actually get to see Lenny in court defending Roger. From Roger’s description of Lenny metaphorically ripping the heads off the opposing witnesses one by one, that would’ve been something to see.
Admin: That would have been fantastic to see. Roger’s colorful description sounds like a lot of fun; I’d have loved at least a little glimpse of Lenny in action.
Veronica: You are unbelievable.
Veronica: Well, you don’t seriously expect me to believe that… all of this is due to the fact that I fished you out of some school swimming pool when you were fifteen.
Lenny: No, it might have had something rather more to do with the prolonged mouth-to-mouth session you gave me once we got to the side.
RF: I think Veronica rather directly changes the mood here because she might be becoming a bit uncomfortable, and/or because she might be worried about where this conversation might lead. Nonetheless, Lenny follows her lead and seems happy enough to look at things from a more comedic point of view.
Admin: The tone becomes much more playful now. 🙂 Yeah, Lenny was very quick to follow her lead and add some frisky innuendo in the mix.
RF: He’s definitely enjoying teasing her. 😉 And of course, this is one of the “kisses of life” referred to in the episode title.
Veronica [whispering]: That is outrageous!
Lenny: It went on for a very long time.
Veronica: Well, that’s only because I had just passed my St. John’s Ambulance and I could have been a little over-eager.
Lenny: Well, it certainly did the trick. My testosterone count went up so fast I was lucky to keep a full head of hair for the walk back home.
RF: Nice humblebrag from Lenny about his testosterone count. 😀 He seems to know it, too, judging by that little chuckle mid-sentence. And I don’t think Veronica really thinks it’s that outrageous. She appears to be enjoying the whole conversation quite a bit, even if she passes off her zeal as being “over-eager”.
Admin: I love the line “I had just passed my St. John’s Ambulance and I could have been a little over-eager.” It makes me imagine her as something of a jolly hockey-stick type schoolgirl, though Lenny seems to see her as having always been much more sophisticated and alluring than that, so who knows. And I also love Lenny’s humblebrag. He’s basically saying, “Let me tell you about my testosterone.” 😉
Veronica [protesting]: I wasn’t kissing you!
Lenny: No, I know. I had to wait six years for that.
Veronica [warningly]: Don’t…
Lenny: What? Oh, it’s amazing what a suddenly focused mind and a starred first from Oxford and a well-cut suit can do.
RF: Lenny’s been keeping an exact timeline in his head, with that “suddenly focused” mind of his. And we can hardly blame Veronica for falling for a “starred first from Oxford” in a “well-cut suit” (heck, Lenny’s suit is gorgeous even now). But even though his tone is still half-joking, his eyes and demeanour aren’t; the mood abruptly shifts as Veronica realizes that they’re moving into dangerous territory and attempts to head it off.
Admin: Veronica’s protests suddenly become a lot more serious. It is really obvious he is heading into dangerous territory right now. And although he’s absolutely right about his own charms, he is being very reckless by going over them like that. But, again, he’s absolutely right!
Veronica: I just feel so guilty, that’s all.
Lenny: Why? Because you made the wrong choice?
Veronica [hesitantly]: …No, I loved Roger. I lo… I… I loved Roger.
Lenny: Then why have you come back to me?
RF: Veronica’s hesitancy, and use of the past tense, tends to suggest that while she says she loved Roger, she’s definitely having second thoughts about it now (and probably has, ever since she walked into Lenny’s office). I also like how Lenny folds his hands and leans forward on the table, making even more intense eye contact than before when he asks why she’s come back to him. He’s digging for an answer he knows Veronica is reluctant to give him.
Admin: Yep, she’s using a very hesitant past tense. It totally seems like she realizes she made the wrong choice staying with Roger, so she continues to convince herself otherwise.
Veronica: To get him off.
Lenny: There’s a huge slick of smooth, young lawyers who could do that for you.
Veronica: But none as good as you.
Lenny: Veronica, a vivisected baboon could get your husband off, and I think you know it. But then I think this isn’t really about Roger. Is it?
Veronica [hesitates]: I should go, you know. I’m sorry. I’ve made a mistake.
[Veronica gets up and leaves. Lenny sits for a moment or two by himself, looking thoughtful.]
RF: I think Lenny was using a little of his courtroom technique there, pushing Veronica for the answer. I also like how Mr. Malahide modulates his voice, his tone becoming even softer and more appealing as he says “Is it?” But Veronica panics and leaves, likely because she knows what the real answer is and can’t admit it to herself, let alone to Lenny, who’s been carrying a torch for her for an awfully long time. Sitting by himself after she leaves, he seems to know he pushed a bit too much; he might even be having a little doubt mixed in with that self-confidence of his. But he’s not ready to give up yet.
Admin: I really like the vivisected baboon line; what a way with words Lennie has. He is so incredibly intense when he says “I think this isn’t really about Roger. Is it?” I mean incredibly intense. You can just about cut the tension with a knife.
[Veronica crosses the street outside the restaurant, looking upset. Lenny follows, limping heavily and calling after her.]
[Veronica waits for him to catch up.]
RF: Oooohh, it just tears my heart when he limps across the street! 🙁 He even makes a little gesture of helplessness like, “What can I do, this is how it is.” It’s like there’s still some of that desperate little boy in him and he might never catch up to her. But we already know that Veronica has never made a big deal over his clubfoot and has defended him against those who do.
Admin: It is a fantastic bit of physical acting and it is indeed heart-wrenching watching him struggle across the road for one last chance with Veronica.
Lenny: You want to know what I really put it all down to? Well, it was that pool. But when I lay down there, watching the race go on without me… I thought to myself, “If I ever get out of this… I’m going to beat them. I’m going to beat them all.”
RF: Lenny’s voice changes just a bit when he says, “I’m going to beat them. I’m going to beat them all.” He switches to a juuuusst slightly less posh accent for a moment or two, like he’s reverting to the boy he used to be.
Admin: His meeting with Veronica has forced him to face some uncomfortable truths, and made him think about his past, so it does make sense that his voice might revert some to how it used to be. It is very easy to imagine how determined he must have been as a youngster to turn his life around and “beat them all.”
Lenny: And if I couldn’t use this [indicates his leg], I’d use this [indicates his head]. It was anger, that’s all it was. Just pure, bloody anger. And look where it got me. The funny thing is, though, if you’ve left your past so far behind… there comes a point when all you want to do is… catch up with it.
[Veronica half-smiles in understanding.]
RF: Well, I suspect the truth is more likely some combination of Lenny’s feelings for Veronica and his anger at the other kids (and likely his father, too), though he’s almost trying to reassure her that she doesn’t have to bear the immense responsibility of inspiring his success. But I also think that the part of his past Lenny would most like to catch up to is… Veronica. And I think she knows it, even if she seems to be avoiding saying anything so as not to betray her feelings.
Admin: Veronica clearly gave him a direct sense of hope. I think he had the anger alright, but she gave him the focus. But, he’s definitely letting her know there was more to it all than an overeager kiss of life.
RF: And of course the other person who’d like to catch up with their past right now is… Veronica, although she’s still undecided what that might actually mean.
Lenny [tearfully]: It’s wonderful to see you again, Vron. Wonderful.
[He turns and leaves, limping as he slowly crosses the street. Veronica watches him go, but can’t make herself follow.]
RF: Ooooohhh, and it tears my heart out again when Lenny’s voice breaks on “Wonderful” and he slowly limps back across the street! 🙁 I was literally shouting at the screen, “Go after him!! Go after him!!” But she didn’t. 🙁 However, I did notice that the “Sensitive Skin” director and/or cinematographer put Maggie Steed outside a closed bridal shop, and then had her pose with bowed head, echoing the bride in the window – surely symbolic of her lost potential with Lenny, and her regrets about it now. It’s a wonderfully poignant, sad moment. Fortunately [SPOILER!], they both get a chance to do something about it later in the episode.
Admin: They both look so close to tears as they part. You know that what both of them want more than anything is to just be together. The cinematography is perfect with the wedding gown in the background. And the Dvorak (American II: Lento) music is so gorgeous. It really hits the feelings of regret and hope that go with this scene.
RF: Totally agreed about the music. From the moment Veronica goes into Lenny’s office to now, it perfectly suits the mood of the scenes: bittersweet but romantic, with a teeny bit of hope buried in there somewhere.
Wrap-Up on “Kiss of Life”:
RF: This is a wonderful scene that has a bit of everything: off-the-charts chemistry, intense attraction, old lovers reuniting (maybe), humour, and a bittersweet, poignant parting. And it’s all wonderfully acted by Mr. Malahide and Ms. Steed. They have the ability to make these two lovers come to life, and have us rooting for them to somehow have a happy ending. And over it all, as Admin mentions, a heart-rending Dvorak soundtrack that suits the action perfectly. We learn a lot about these characters in a very short time, and really want them to find each other again.
Admin: It is a beautiful scene. The mixture of regret and hope could be a very difficult one to convey, but they do it perfectly. It would be easy to be overly maudlin, but they manage to make it deeply emotional without syrupy sentimentality. As you say, you really just have to root for them to get together again and make a real go of it.