The Life and Loves of a She-Devil

The Lifes and Loves of a She-Devil

1986 - United Kingdom

A 1986 adaptation of Fay Weldon's novel, The Life and Loves of a She-Devil stands as a seminal work that delves into the themes of revenge, transformation, and the pursuit of power. Directed by Philip Saville and adapted for the screen by Ted Whitehead, this series remains a vivid and provocative exploration of the darker sides of human nature, particularly through its portrayal of a woman scorned and her ruthless journey towards self-empowerment.

The narrative follows Ruth Patchett (played by Julie T. Wallace), a physically imposing and unattractive housewife whose life is upended when she discovers her husband Bobbo (Dennis Waterman) is having an affair with the glamorous romance novelist Mary Fisher (Patricia Hodge). What begins as a story of marital betrayal quickly morphs into a tale of cold-blooded revenge. Coming to the realisation that she no longer loved her husband who had only ever treated her as a despised servant, Ruth decides to transform herself into a "she-devil," systematically dismantling Bobbo's life by draining his bank account and framing him for embezzlement and assuming a new identity that allows her to infiltrate Mary Fisher’s world.

The Life and Loves of a She-Devil

Wallace’s performance as Ruth is nothing short of extraordinary. Her portrayal captures the pain, anger, and eventual cold determination that drives Ruth's transformation. Wallace’s physicality is a significant part of the role, as Ruth’s imposing stature and unkempt appearance starkly contrasts with Mary Fisher's petite, polished elegance.

Patricia Hodge as Mary Fisher is equally compelling. Her portrayal of Mary is nuanced, capturing both the character's superficial charm and underlying vulnerability. The interplay between Ruth and Mary, as they navigate their respective desires and fears, forms the crux of the series and provides a rich, character-driven narrative that is both engaging and unsettling.

The Life and Loves of a She-Devil

At its core, The Life and Loves of a She-Devil is a story about transformation and the lengths to which an individual will go to reclaim power and self-worth. Ruth's journey from a downtrodden housewife to a powerful, almost mythic figure of vengeance is fraught with moral ambiguity. Her methods are extreme and often cruel, but they are portrayed as a direct response to the injustices she has suffered.

Ruth’s metamorphosis is not just physical but also psychological. She sheds her old identity, adopting new personas to manipulate those around her and achieve her goals. By becoming a "she-devil," Ruth subverts the expectations placed upon her and redefines what it means to be powerful. Ruth’s eventual takeover of Mary’s mansion, a symbol of Mary’s success and security, represents her ultimate victory and the reclamation of power that was once denied to her.

The Life and Loves of a She-Devil

Philip Saville’s direction is instrumental in bringing the darkly comedic and dramatic tones of the series to life. His use of close-ups and stark, almost theatrical set designs enhances the psychological tension and character dynamics. The pacing of the series is deliberate, allowing the audience to fully absorb Ruth’s transformation and the impact of her actions on those around her.

Ted Whitehead’s screenplay stays true to the spirit of Weldon’s novel while making necessary adaptations for the television format. The dialogue is sharp and often laced with dark humour, reflecting the satirical underpinnings of the source material. The adaptation effectively balances the fantastical elements of Ruth’s transformation with the grounded, emotional core of her character arc.

Upon its release, The Life and Loves of a She-Devil received critical acclaim for its bold storytelling and strong performances, particularly from Wallace. The series was noted for its unapologetic exploration of female anger and its critique of societal norms regarding gender and power. It has since maintained a cult status, often being revisited for its daring narrative and the powerful performances of its lead actresses. It remains a significant work in the canon of British television, influencing subsequent portrayals of complex female characters in media.

The Life and Loves of a She-Devil

The Life and Loves of a She-Devil is a compelling and thought-provoking series that challenges viewers to grapple with uncomfortable questions about justice, power, and identity. Through its vivid characters and unflinching narrative, it offers a powerful exploration of the lengths to which one woman will go to reclaim her life from the ruins of betrayal. Julie T. Wallace’s unforgettable performance as Ruth Patchett, coupled with Philip Saville’s masterful direction, ensures that this series remains a landmark in television history. It is a must-watch for those interested in dark, character-driven dramas that push the boundaries of conventional storytelling.

Published on May 30th, 2024. Written by Malcolm Alexander for Television Heaven.

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