Patrick Malahide is known for playing a number of slimy, weaselly characters of various stripes, so it’s always enjoyable to see him in a sympathetic, romantic role for a change. He handles romance with the same ease and aplomb as villainy, and it’s odd how often one finds oneself rooting for him either way. This episode is a wonderful example of his softer side.
Synopsis and spoilers follow, or scroll down to visit the gallery:
The episode “Kiss of Life” (2007) from the BBC series “Sensitive Skin” finds Malahide playing a lawyer, Leonard “Rickety” Richards. Our first introduction to Richards is watching his rather laborious progress up some stairs in his lawyer’s robes. The reason for his pained steps is made clear as we see that one shoe is markedly built-up and heavier than the other; Richards has a club foot.
Richards meets his client, Roger Dorkins (Nicholas Jones), who is the brother-in-law of series main character Davina Jackson (Joanna Lumley) and husband to Davina’s sister Veronica (Maggie Steed). We soon learn that Roger and Leonard have some previous (bad) history going back to public school, and that Roger has a few trepidations that Leonard will do his best to get him acquitted of financial fraud charges. Leonard, however, is supremely confident of his own abilities and assures Roger (using his best Elvis impersonation) that the Elvis of lawyers is entering the courtroom and Roger has nothing to fear.
Back at home after the hearing, Roger describes for Veronica how Leonard metaphorically ripped the heads off the prosecution witnesses one by one, surprising Roger with his ruthless effectiveness. We discover more of Leonard’s history with the Dorkinses: that he was the picked-upon, scrawny, disabled kid who received the brunt of the other kids’ bullying, picking up the nickname “Rickety” for his gait, and that Veronica always stood up for him and refused to allow the nickname to be used in her presence – and still refuses it. We also learn that Leonard has made a great success of himself by his own efforts, in contrast with Roger’s rather precarious current state.
The following day, Veronica pays Leonard a visit in his posh, well-decorated office to discuss Roger’s case. She learns that Leonard is more than hopeful of an acquittal – “The cure for male pattern baldness is hopeful” by contrast, he says (a lovely, self-deprecating small aside) – that Roger’s knowledge of his own fraud is so lacking that there’s little chance he could have perpetuated it on purpose and victory is nearly assured. Veronica offers to pay Leonard for his services, but he declines… and we soon find out the reason why.
Business concluded, Leonard looks at the clock and declares in an entirely different tone that it seems no time at all has passed since Veronica came into his office. To her pragmatic suggestion that perhaps his clock has stopped, he replies, “Or time.” He regards her with a soft but intense gaze, causing her to squirm a bit self-consciously in her chair, before revealing that he’s thought of her every day since they were teenagers at school together, and that he believes her reasons for engaging him as Roger’s lawyer have more to do with the fact they were lovers years ago and that she still has feelings for him, even though she denies it (rather ineffectively). It is impossible to do justice to the entire exchange in text; it simply has to be seen. The interplay, banter, and romantic tension between the two are wonderful and sexy, and the mutual attraction and chemistry are almost palpable. It ends with Leonard inviting Veronica to lunch, which she has every intention of refusing – she’s still married to Roger – but…
Of course they end up at lunch. Who could refuse? Over the meal, Leonard credits his success as a lawyer to Veronica, because she saved him from drowning in the pool at a school swim meet, making his future life possible. In particular, he ascribes remarkable effects to her life-saving mouth-to-mouth technique: “My testosterone count went up so fast I was lucky to keep a full head of hair for the walk home!”
Veronica, of course, denies any such effects and ascribes his success to his own efforts. We learn a bit more of Leonard’s background: that he’s a self-made man of modest beginnings whose father owned a fish and chip shop, and that he believed no one cared about him and he was doomed to the same destiny until Veronica rescued him. He then presses the matter of why she chose to engage his services when a “vivisected baboon” could have gotten Roger acquitted, saying, “This isn’t really about Roger, is it?”
A flustered Veronica hastily leaves the restaurant, followed by Leonard (the scene where he makes his halting, awkward way across a busy street is incredibly touching), and he explains further that he used his anger as a survival mechanism, deciding that he’d use his intellect as his weapon if he couldn’t effectively use his body. He bids her farewell, barely holding back his tears (making me want to cry, too) and hobbles back to the restaurant. Veronica hesitates on the sidewalk, undecided about what she should do, and I confess I yelled at the screen, “Go back in!! Go back into the restaurant!!”
Later, Veronica tells Davina the entire story. Davina is in this episode, by the way; she has a concurrent storyline with a cardiologist, Dr. Matthew Clasper (Simon Williams), who won’t leave her alone and keeps popping up at inconvenient times and places. Unfortunately for Dr. Matthew, Davina is not the slightest bit interested in him. Davina encourages Veronica to stay with Roger, and is surprised to learn that Veronica fears she has made a great mistake – not by having the affair with Leonard and falling in love with him, but by ending the affair and returning to Roger. In accordance with soap opera conventions, Roger overhears this and is stricken. We later see him studying up on his case, having reached his own decision.
Veronica accompanies Roger to court and phones Davina to meet her there urgently; something terrible has happened. Without consulting Leonard, Roger has changed his plea to “guilty” and is unexpectedly well informed about his own case. He now faces a five year prison sentence. Leonard is livid about this, declaring that he swore to Veronica on his life that he’d defend Roger… when he suddenly clutches his chest, grimaces, and collapses onto the floor in a heart attack!
What follows is one of the oddest CPR scenes one could ever hope to see. Dr. Matthew is finally prodded into action by Davina and attempts to administer mouth-to-mouth (there is a bit of an in-joke here when one realizes both men played Inspector Alleyn) while Veronica compresses Leonard’s chest, to no avail. As it turns out, Dr. Matthew is a research type of cardiologist rather than a practicing one, and has never worked with a live patient before. Veronica brushes him aside and takes over, alternately giving mouth-to-mouth and tearfully pleading with Leonard not to die. The mouth-to-mouth suddenly turns into an epic, prolonged snog as Leonard regains consciousness and wraps his arms around Veronica, declaring it “one hell of a kiss” when they finally come up for air. Roger is resigned to his fate, Dr. Matthew is bewildered by his heretofore unknown life-saving abilities, and Leonard and Veronica are ecstatically happy. The memorable final shot is of a young girl plunging into a pool in her school kit. Who could ask for a better ending than that? 😉
In case it’s not readily apparent, I just adored this show. We get to see Malahide as a sympathetic and intensely romantic, yet driven and self-made character. Great dialogue, wonderful chemistry, and a very compact, well-told story delivered in a half hour. I really came to care about these characters and wish we’d been able to see more of them. It’s a must-see for the banter and interaction and I can’t recommend it enough.
UPDATE: Video clip uploaded, courtesy of Admin. 🙂