Mr Nightingale, Supernatural 1977 (Ep4)

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Mr Nightingale is one of the strangest entries in the Supernatural series and will appeal to lovers of the uncanny, writes RICHARD MARKWORTH

Mr Nightingale, Supernatural 1977 (Ep4)

TITLE: Mr Nightingale
DIRECTOR: Alan Cooke
2 July 1977 BBC1

Review of Mr Nightingale

Episode four of the Supernatural anthology series, sees the Club of the Damned visited by the titular Mr Nightingale (Jeremy Brett).

A frail, eccentric old man, Nightingale totters wheezingly into the society’s drawing room aided by a pair of walking sticks and seemingly on the verge of collapse. After imbibing an invigorating swig of claret, he recounts a story concerning events which took place thirty years previously.

Shy English bachelor Nightingale is sent by his father to stay with Herr Steekebeck (Bruce Purchase) and his family in Hamburg to arrange a business deal.

However, it appears his parent has ulterior motives in arranging this trip for his son as, now he has reached the age of 35, it is considered high time Nightingale settled down. One of Steekebeck’s daughters, Elyse (Susan Maudslay) is widowed and therefore an ideal candidate for matrimony.

Sadly, the virginal, emotionally inhibited Nightingale does not impress Elyse with his timid demeanour. He also fails to respond to the obvious flirtations of her beautiful sister Felizitas (Lesley-Anne Down).

It is revealed Nightingale has developed an intense fear of both love and death following the passing of his mother, and the nervousness of his nature even extends to being terrified by the ghost stories the family tell as their after-dinner entertainment. It is painfully apparent the neurotic Nightingale is unable to fulfil whatever roles the respective young Steekebeck ladies may have considered him a candidate for.

However, things change dramatically for Nightingale after he retires to his bedroom late one night. The room has always scared him after dark and, whenever in occupation, he becomes plagued by ominous visions of black seagulls and an uneasy feeling someone, or something, is watching him.

Matters come to a shocking head when he is visited by a doppelganger who immediately begins to influence the Englishman after the two apparently merge.

Jeremy Brett in Mr Nightingale, Supernatural 1977.
Jeremy Brett in Mr Nightingale, Supernatural 1977.

Following this bizarre encounter Nightingale develops a confident, even ruthless personality. He is soon bedding Elyse, who has now more than rekindled her interest in him and develops a mutual attraction to Felizitas. 

Furthermore, Nightingale brazenly insults his host, Herr Steekebeck, accusing him of dubious financial irregularities in their business dealings. His previously civilised and bashful behaviour when dealing with the larger family group deteriorates into downright rudeness in their presence.

As the story unfolds Nightingale becomes obsessed with the exact timing of the future deaths of those around him and the darker aspects of his personality, amplified by the haunting presence of the sinister doppelganger, begin to consume him.

As Nightingale’s influence begins to negatively affect them, the Steekebeck family find themselves at severe risk of ruin thanks to the dangerous figure residing in their household. 

Mr Nightingale is one of the strangest stories in the Supernatural series. There is no solid explanation as to the true nature of the doppelganger; is it merely a projection of Nightingale’s own tortured subconscious, a hallucination conjured by his pent up physical desires? or is the house harbouring a malignant entity awaiting a victim to possess? 

The episode contains strong themes of sexual repression, and the potentially catastrophic consequences of succumbing to carnal appetites, throughout its narrative.

The Great Fire, which had razed a third of Hamburg 18 years prior to Nightingale’s arrival, is overtly employed as a metaphor for the potential chaos which may be wrought should one surrender to such powerful urges.

This peril is exemplified by Nightingale’s encouragement of Felizitas’ pyromaniacal leanings, rendering her almost orgasmic at the sight of uncontrolled flames in his story’s closing stages.

This would have been considered daring subject matter if penned in the Victorian period in which the story is set but, unfortunately, lacks any genuine sensationalism when viewed through the televisual lens of the far more liberated 1970s.

Jeremy Brett, in the central role, is occasionally guilty of over-acting, with his performance at times bordering on the camp. Although these moments do somewhat dilute the dramatic impact of the piece there is nonetheless plenty to savour in this Gothic yarn. 

The appearances of the doppelganger are suitably creepy and the eerie environs of the Steekebeck house prove an ideal setting for a Victorian ghost story with its shadowy stairways and candlelit chambers rich in spooky atmosphere and equally conducive to tales of both illicit assignations and spooky happenings. 

Although not the strongest entry in the anthology, and despite its low-budget trappings, Mr Nightingale will undoubtably appeal to lovers of the macabre and proves an interesting, at times unsettling, tale of the uncanny. 

Tell us your thoughts on Mr Nightingale, Supernatural 1977 Episode 4, in the comment section below!

Read Richard Markworth’s reviews of Supernatural 1977 episodes on Spooky Isles.

Read our Supernatural 1977 Episode Guide with reviews of all the episodes!


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