A Faint Refrain

by Jonathan Powell

Episode Number: 49
Director: Baz Taylor



Edwin Ashton   Colin Douglas
Sefton Briggs   John McKelvey
Margaret Porter   Lesley Nunnerley
John Porter   Ian Thompson
Freda Mackenzie   Barbara Flynn
Ian Mackenzie   John Nettles
Helen Hughes   Georgine Anderson
Michael Armstrong   Mark Jones
Frances Redmayne   Ann Lynn
Barbara Armstrong   Christine Prentice



The Naval Docks   Michael Armstrong and Frances Redmayne go ashore after returning to England at war's end, and she makes him promise to stay just a few days in Liverpool.

The Ashton Home   Margaret is preparing to take breakfast up to her father, who has been confined to bed due to a persistent headache.

He unwittingly spoils her surprise by coming downstairs to the kitchen.

Margaret confides that she and John had a row the night before, centring upon their proposed trip to see his ill mother in Chorley.

As Edwin leaves with his breakfast on a tray, John comes into the kitchen and abruptly notifies his wife that he will be taking John George next door in a few minutes.

Margaret, in turn, makes it quite clear by her brusque attitude that she still resents having to go with John to visit his mother.

A Dockside Street   Browsing through the newspaper he just purchased in a local shop, pacifist Michael mentions to Frances that the Nazi war trials begin in November, and he cannot help wondering "when they'll get around to trying our lot."

When Frances asks him what his daughter, Barbara, will think of her, Michael explains that she is used to seeing him with lady friends, including of course Margaret.

Frances spots a phone box and suggests that Michael ring the Ashtons now, rather than putting it off until later.

He wants to get a hotel room with her for a few days, but—perhaps still uncertain of his relationship with Margaret—Frances says that he will need to stay alone, as she has some things to sort out elsewhere.

The Ashton Home   The telephone rings, and, when he answers it, Edwin is shocked to hear Michael Armstrong's voice, asking whether he could drop by for a short visit.

Just then, Margaret comes down the stairs to meet her husband outside, so Edwin must hang up the phone.

Before she goes out the door, Margaret implores her father to take care of his headache and reminds him that Freda will be coming around at noontime to prepare his lunch.

A Dockside Street   Michael hangs up the telephone, and he sees Frances smiling at him through the glass of the phone box.

The Mackenzie Home   "Freda Mackenzie, S.R.N.," announces Ian, and Freda throws her arms around her husband in delight, exclaiming, "I've passed!"

She quips, "Freda Mackenzie, S.R.N., scourge of all future nurses," though, in truth, she cannot see herself as a matron: "face like an anvil, grip like a vise, and not a shred of humour."

Now that she has a future in nursing, says Ian, she must make a choice between her career and raising a family.

He recalls that Freda did not want children "cluttering up the place"—often dismissing them as "little brats"—and that she was "very keen on being the modern, emancipated woman."

Freda assures him that, like most women, she does want to have a family, but "it's just a question of choosing the right time…the right moment."

A Hotel   Michael and Frances settle into their hotel room, and she tells him that she stayed in many such places while abroad, mostly in Italy.

She explains that her husband, Roland, died in Perugia of pneumonia—during the height of summer, while they were on holiday.

Frances asks if Michael will be seeing Margaret that afternoon, but he says that she will not be there, and anyway, he would not want to upset her.

As they lie supine on the bed, relaxing, Frances confesses that she had forgotten to tell Michael about Roland before now, and Michael responds, "We all forget."

The Ashton Home   Freda has prepared her father's lunch, but he has not so much as touched it.

He apologises to her, explaining that he is concerned because Michael Armstrong rang to say that he would be stopping by with news of Philip.

The Briggs Home   Sefton is drinking some whisky, but he assures Helen that he is not worried about the meeting with Trevor Howells.

She informs him that she is considering a move toward greater independence—that is, living elsewhere.

The Ashton Home   Freda and her father agree that Philip must be all right or they would have heard through the proper channels, telegrams and the like.

Edwin tells her that he always liked Michael quite a lot, and Freda is surprised to hear him say that.

She reflects on these war years and how long ago it seems—before Ian was a consultant—Owen, Peter Collins, Michael…and Tony.

He wonders why she mentioned Tony's name, and Freda deftly manages to change the subject.

She says it is funny how the simple mention of a name, Michael Armstrong, can cause all those memories of the past to come flooding back.

"Do you know, Dad," she muses, "I sometimes think it's best left alone…best forgotten."

The Train Station   In the buffet lounge, John brings Margaret and himself some coffee, but, when offered, Margaret grumbles that she does not feel like any food.

They will be catching a later train than expected because Margaret talked with Marjorie for so long in one of the shops.

Margaret resents the way John disappeared from view the moment Marjorie was seen, thereby leaving Margaret to do all the talking.

He explains that he was trying to hurry her up, but Margaret snarls that she feels no desire to rush to see his mother.

Margaret says she admired John when he stood up to his mother after the spiteful woman told him about Michael, but now, inexplicably, he wants to see her again.

In his own defence, John declares that she is his mother, and she is ill.

"I owe her nothing," snaps Margaret, and John tells her not to come, whereupon she says she will not go see her after all.

"Good," he declares. "At least I can talk to Dad without you drooling over him all the time," and Margaret responds, "That I will ignore."

A Public Park   Michael and Frances embrace and kiss, and then he tells her that he must catch the bus that will take him to the Ashtons, a visit that should take only about a half hour.

His daughter, Barbara, will meet him at the hotel unless he picks her up at school beforehand.

Frances asks if Margaret has seen him in uniform, and he says no—and she never will.

The Train Station   John returns to their table with a sandwich for Margaret and a cup of coffee for himself, and he informs her that he has made up his mind not to go see his mother.

Margaret apologises to him for her behaviour of late, explaining that little things have a way of preying on her mind.

Now that neither of them will be catching a train, he decides to go back home, but she tells him that she wants to visit Freda, to ask her how she thought their father was feeling.

The Ashton Home   Freda comes into the living room and renews acquaintances with Michael Armstrong, who assures her that Philip is doing fine.

He remarks that she seems very nervous, probably due to his presence in the Ashton home once again.

Michael notices her wedding ring, and she tells him, "I grabbed the first one who liked me, and who was in a position to like me, and who I liked as well."

"People get married for all sorts of different reasons," says Michael, "just as they stay married for all sorts of different reasons."

This talk of her own marriage bothers Freda, so she changes the subject by asking whether Michael wants to see Margaret.

Absolutely not, claims Michael, explaining that he does not believe in digging up the past.

Freda comments that Michael is wearing a uniform, but he is quick to say that he did not fight.

She states that she always admired him for that—"just the odd letter and then nothing."

When Freda asks him if he will ever marry again, he says no, that he has lived alone for so long that it would be difficult to begin sharing things again.

Michael explains that he and his girlfriend are both too selfish, too used to being alone, ever to become serious about the prospect of marriage.

The Briggs Home   Helen informs her brother that Edwin has a visitor, about whom he is remaining very secretive.

Sefton is curious, but another matter takes precedence—offering to pay the deposit on a nice flat for Helen, insisting that "a family has got to look after its own."

The Ashton Home   Edwin has returned home, so he and Michael converse in the living room.

Michael explains that Philip wanted him to deliver a message to his father.

When Edwin asks him whether he knows Philip well, Michael responds that he does, adding, "In a way, we're the same kind of person."

"Except you didn't fight," notes Edwin with scarcely concealed anger.

Michael assures Edwin that Philip is in no more danger than anyone else in war-ravaged Germany.

As for himself, Michael mentions that he has witnessed the devastation, and he shares the guilt, even though he was a conscientious objector.

Edwin argues that there should be no sense of guilt whatsoever, that the Allies had no choice in the matter, and that they had to defend themselves against the Nazi oppressors.

This ideological impasse aside, Michael informs Edwin that Philip has decided to remain in Germany indefinitely, in a humanitarian effort to help the Germany people.

Edwin says he can understand Philip's feelings, but, as his father, he wants him to return home—a notion that Michael rejects as being counter to a compassionate society.

"He's doing what he feels is right," contends Michael, "what he thinks he has to do. And he's taking our guilt, everybody's guilt, for us."

Edwin is amused by Michael's naïve idealism, wondering why Englishmen should feel guilty about defending themselves and their own lives.

"He's living up to his principles," Michael tells Philip's father, "the principles that you taught him to believe in."

Provoked by this specious accusation, Edwin angrily proclaims that those same principles came from wanting to fight oppression at home—and the war was to stamp out an even more violent form of oppression.

Michael argues that by fighting the Nazi oppression, the Allies have become the oppressors.

"Churchill…Hitler," he says. "Hitler called it the Third Reich, we called it the British Empire. What's the difference in the end?"

The Mackenzie Home   Freda arrives and is surprised to see Margaret there, as she assumed that her older sister would be in Chorley with John and his parents.

When Margaret explains that she decided not to go and that John has gone home, Freda is alarmed and asks Ian to let them have a conversation—in private.

Freda breaks the disturbing news to Margaret that Michael is at home to tell their father something, and if John goes there too…

The Ashton Home   Michael is leaving just as John walks in, and Edwin introduces the visitor simply as "Michael."

John suspects that this is Margaret's wartime lover, the father of her dead baby, and he chides Edwin for not introducing them properly.

They met only once, in this very room, back when John was ill, and yet he remembers the face very well.

John's fury rises as he thinks of all the poor soldiers abroad whose wives were compromised by opportunistic men who happened to catch them in moments of weakness.

"And it stays with you, you know," he declares. "It's right there. It's right there in the bed, as if somebody's watching through the window all the time, laughing and saying he's been there too."

The doorbell rings, so Edwin goes to answer it, leaving Michael in the living room with the vengeful John Porter.

It is Sefton Briggs at the door, and Edwin quickly explains to him the volatile situation that exists in the living room.

John alleges that Michael actually came to see Margaret, but Michael insists that he took all precautions to make sure that she would not be there.

"Oh, so you feel guilty, do you?" says John. "Can't face her because of what you did, because of the pain you caused," whereupon Michael argues, "It takes two, you know, John."

Michael tells John that it was Margaret who came up to him at a concert and began speaking to him, so it was not a question of him starting it.

He adds, "Underneath that cool exterior—I don't know whether you realise this—but there's something about your wife even you don't know."

Then, almost gleefully, he tells John, "If you'd like to think it was rape, well, then you're wrong."

These inflammatory words are too much for John to bear, so he lashes out at his foe, and the pair of them exchange blows.

Later, when Margaret arrives, Edwin informs her that Michael has left, and John has gone upstairs.

With a look of sadness, she asks her father to tell her what happened.

A Hotel   Michael enters, soaked by rainfall, and Frances informs him that Barbara has not yet come.

As she dries his hair, Frances asks how the visit to the Ashtons went, and Michael, shaking his head, says, "Oh, it was all a mistake. It should never have happened."

He explains that he told John the truth—or at least a version of it—and John became so aggressive that he forced him to say things he did not want to say.

Bitterly, Michael declares that he felt as though he were back—like it used to be, with Margaret.

The Ashton Home   When John comes downstairs, Margaret wonders if he would like something to eat, but he says no, whereupon Margaret tells him, "Well, you could help me with the washing up…like a good husband."

John alleges that Michael means a lot to her, which she denies, though she does acknowledge that he used to be very significant in her life.

Margaret begs him to forget about Michael, but John declares that the thought of her affair is eating away at him all the time.

When Margaret says their marriage is something better, John argues that it may be more secure, but it is also boring and predictable.

"It's just like your mum and dad," he says. "What did they have? Thirty years of what? Nothing! Just comfortable evenings in front of the fire."

He fumes that there will be no more blind acceptance for him.

John concedes that a comment by Michael struck a nerve—that underneath Margaret's cool exterior there was something that he himself has not found.

Visibly agitated, he storms out of the house, claiming that he is going to settle something.

In the living room, Edwin commiserates with Margaret for the trouble she and John are experiencing.

Margaret asks her father if John knows where Michael is living, and Edwin says yes.

She fears that John is going there to exact revenge, but Edwin does not think so—suspecting that Michael and John already said all they had to say.

A Hotel   Barbara has arrived, having lived with her aunt for the past months while Michael was serving in uniform as a non-combatant.

She confides to Frances that her father seems nicer, now that he has returned from abroad.

There is a knock at the door, and Margaret comes in, saying hello to her former pupil in school, Barbara Armstrong.

Frances explains that Michael will be back in about an hour, but Margaret says she came there in search of her husband.

The conversation turns quite serious, not for young ears to hear, and Frances asks Barbara to step out of the room so they can speak in private.

Margaret reiterates that she did not come to see Michael, and Frances asks, "Didn't you? Honestly?"

That makes Margaret feel uncomfortable, so she says that she will be leaving soon, but Frances assures her, "There's no need for that at all."

The Mackenzie Home   Freda confides to her husband that seeing Michael again brought back her feelings of girlish infatuation—childish romanticism.

And, she adds, it also made her reconsider those ambivalent thoughts about Tony Briggs.

She explains to Ian that Tony kissed her the night before she was married, and it made her wonder if she had wasted something and only realised it too late.

Surprisingly, Ian is amused rather than furious at this confession, and Freda assures him that he has no reason to be jealous of Tony.

A Hotel   Margaret tells Frances that sometimes she wishes that she had gone away, so none of the heartache with Michael would have happened.

Frances, though, contends that it probably would have happened to her somewhere else instead.

When Margaret asks whether Michael has told her everything about their affair, Frances answers yes, and Margaret declares that does not bother her.

Frances explains that her daughter was born six months after her husband died, and then the daughter later was killed in an air raid.

She says she thinks Michael spoke to John as he felt back when he was in love with Margaret rather than how he feels now.

"Things happen to you," contends Frances, "and for a while you try to cover them up, but you can learn from them—and forget them," and Margaret says, "Yes, I wish my husband could…"

Michael comes into the room, and he and Margaret nervously smile at one another and say hello.

The Briggs Home   Sefton is quite drunk, so Helen implores him to go to bed.

He refuses, stating, "The night is but young. We've got the world in front of us, Helen, and our lives behind us…out of reach."

Sefton offers her a monetary deposit for her flat, but she says she has changed her mind, echoing his words that "a family must look after its own."

His spirits brighten, and he wants to celebrate, but his sister scolds him into drinking no more that night.

A Hotel   It is five o'clock in the morning, and Michael and Frances are lying naked in bed.

Frances gets up to open the window some more, as the room has become uncomfortably warm.

She looks out at the morning light and remarks that the clouds go where the wind blows them.

Michael walks over to her, affirming that Margaret is out of his life for good, and Frances tells him this matters very much to her—after not trusting him and worrying that he could not see that she is different, someone else.

"One day it will come again, a faint refrain," she broods. "Oh, it'll be different words, different people. They'll still be saying the same thing: 'Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!' And when we hear it, will we really know it for what it is, for sure, before it's too late?"

He invites her to go back to bed, and she lovingly says his name before they embrace and kiss.

The Ashton Home   Margaret is asleep in bed, but John is fully awake—lying beside her, his mind afflicted with doubt.

Script Excerpt 1

Script Excerpt 2