TV Review: The Green Man (1990)

“The Green Man is an original combination of traditional ghost story and dark sex comedy.”

The Green Man is an early nineties BBC mini-series based on Kingsley Amis’s novel of the same name. The three part adaptation is largely faithful to the source material; those unfamiliar with the novel might be expecting The Wicker Man style folk-horror from the title, but The Green Man is actually an original combination of traditional ghost story and dark sex comedy.

The first episode introduces the central character of Maurice Allington, owner of The Green Man country hotel, where he lives with his wife Joyce, his teenage daughter Amy, and his aged father. Even within a few minutes it is clear that Maurice, ably played by Albert Finney, is a figure approaching some kind of midlife crisis or breakdown; he drinks throughout the day and he’s desperately trying to bed any middle-aged woman in sight. Whilst he can manage to play the jocular host for the hotel guests, friends and family are not as easily deceived.

Part of Maurice’s act with the guests is to tell ghost stories, something The Green Man hotel is admirably suited for, what with the building dating back centuries. But Maurice starts seeing ghosts himself, especially that of one Thomas Underhill who owned the hotel building in the seventeenth century. Are the ghosts real or a symptom of Maurice’s drinking?

Maurice tires to find out more about Underhill’s life and why he might be haunting The Green Man; simultaneously he is also trying to get Joyce into a threesome with a local doctor’s wife…

It’s a combination that shouldn’t work either in prose or on screen, but the TV show is as successful at fusing these disparate elements together as the novel. In part this is due to the accomplished central performance from Albert Finney, ably supported by Linda Marlowe, Nicky Henson, Josie Lawrence and Sarah Berger. The low-key direction helps too, equally restrained when focused on the ghosts as on the sex. The effects, as might be expected from a 1990s BBC television show are minimal and occasionally clunky; nevertheless the show delivers some fine, understated scares that will please all fans of the old MR James Christmas adaptations.

At its heart, The Green Man is actually neither a supernatural horror story or a comedy, but the story of a man tumbling inexorably towards a point of crisis, preoccupied with sex in the face of ageing and death. It’s in the images of Maurice desperately trying to keep a smile on his face and pretend all is normal whilst things fall apart that the true darkness of The Green Man lies.

Despite a few signs of age The Green Man is a series well deserving of being released on DVD for a new audience. It’s original both in plot and execution and rewards multiple viewings. There’s never been another ghost story quite like this one and as such it is highly recommended.

The Green Man was originally broadcast in the UK by the BBC in 1990 and is now available on DVD.


Director: Elijah Moshinsky
Starring: Albert Finney, Linda Marlowe, Sarah Berger, Michael Hordern, Nicky Henson
Certificate: 15
Release date (UK): DVD 5 October 2015

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