This one almost slipped under the wire. Last night, ITV premiered a new one-off drama called Compulsion, heavily based on Middleton and Rowley’s The Changeling and starring Ray Winstone and Parminder Nagra.
The actual “Changeling” subplot is completely removed in order to focus on the main relationship between Anjika (Nagra, in the Beatrice-Joanna role) and Don Flowers (Winstone, DeFlores). Anjika is the daughter of a millionaire tobacco magnate, has just graduated from Cambridge and is in love with fellow student Alex. However, Anjika’s father tries to force her into an arranged marriage with Hardik, the son of a prospective business partner. Enter Flowers, the ex-Special Forces chauffer to the family, who lusts after Anjika. He agrees to “solve” the problem as long as Anjika spends one night with him. Pushed to extremes by her father’s increasingly heavy-handed treatment, she agrees. “I hate you.” “Well, at least you feel something for me.”
Flowers drugs Hardik, takes him back to his flat and sets him up with drugs and money, calling the police who promptly arrest him. Reluctantly, Anjika fulfils her end of the bargain. The encounter changes her, however, and it isn’t long before she approaches Flowers again, the two embarking on a sexual affair that sees the two beginning to grow emotionally close. Alex, meanwhile, proposes to Anjika, who accepts despite her growing detachment from him. Then, a released Hardik turns up at the house while Flowers and Anjika are alone together, accusing her of setting him up for arrest. He quickly realises what is going on, and tells her to make the affair public. Flowers, with Anjika’s tacit permission, snaps his neck, and buries him in the woods.
Anjika realises she is changing: she doesn’t feel guilt for Hardik’s death, only a desire not to be caught. Claire, a mutual friend of Alex and Anjika, notices some suspicious texting on a night out and tells Alex that she suspects an affair. When Alex challenges her, Anjika tells him that Flowers has been pursuing her and won’t leave her alone.
Anjika decides that the only way out of her situation is to get rid of Flowers. She entices him to bed, where she has hidden a knife, intending to claim that she killed him while he was raping her. She loses her nerve, though, and Flowers finds the knife. She tells him her plan. He responds that he loves her, and that she loves him; but she screams at him that he is a fat, old man and she hates him. After a long pause, Flowers makes his decision: he gets up on the bed and begins to rape her, while at the same time pressing the knife back into her hand. Guiding her, they stab him repeatedly together.
Some time later, Anjika and Alex are married, and Anjika sits quietly and sullenly in the bridal car. She is wearing a bracelet Flowers gave her.
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There were some surprisingly close parallels with The Changeling, including a full re-run of the episode with the gloves, with Anjika refusing to take hers back once Flowers had picked them up for her. Mostly, however, the script wisely took its own route to make a believable contemporary story that had recognisable, but not slavish, connections to the original. In a particularly cringeworthy moment, however, Anjika did comment “It’s just like Shakespeare”….
While there was a lot going on in the film (including a subplot involving Anjika’s brother and Claire), the relationship between Anjika and Flowers was its core. Winstone’s perrformance was fascinatingly sympathetic. Anjika’s hatred of him stemmed from the fact that he, among other things, sold her brother drugs, but he simply argued that it was better he got clean drugs from him them dirty mixes from someone else. Flowers was shown looking for an Indian prostitute late at night, who he made wear Anjika’s gloves, yet his attraction to Anjika was imagined to be something deeper than mere lust. The main creepiness came from the age difference between the two; however tender Flowers was, he was still more than twice Anjika’s age. Yet, after their initial encounter, it was Anjika who used increasingly blunt language (“Take me to bed”; “Fuck me”; “I need you inside me”) to pursue the relationship.
Flowers positioned himself as the man who Anjika needed in order to break away from the repressed life she led; while she complained that men had always told her what to do, Flowers allowed her to do whatever she wanted, enacting her most basic desires. In gaining this power, she became herself a slave to her passions, and became torn between the safe, romantic future that Alex offered and the instinctual, amoral person she became when with Flowers. However, Flowers’ plainness and unfettered devotion to Anjika had their own attraction, and it was clear that he understood Anjika far better than anyone else in her life. In his suggestions to this slightly spoiled rich girl that they go on holiday to a chalet in Dungeness, he became pathetic but also deeply moving, offering her everything within his scope.
The ending, then, became extremely emotionally complex. Flowers was traumatised by Anjika’s sneering insults and her refusal to admit she loved him. Without Anjika he had nothing to live for, and at the same time his overwhelming love for her made him want to stop her suffering. His decision to rape her, then, became his last gift to her; by taking away the confusion and actually enacting the thing that she had planned to stage, he allowed her to take him out of her life with the barest minimum of risk. It was a difficult scene to watch, and its results were similarly confused; he had made the decision for her and allowed her to resume her ‘normal’ life, while at the same time ensuring that he was permanently imprinted on her mind. One knew, as the wedded couple drove away, that Anjika would never find a connection with Alex as strong as the one she had shared with Flowers.
The strength of this drama for an understanding of The Changeling, then, was in its exploration of the line between hate and love that Beatrice-Joanna and DeFlores tread finely. While I felt that the film possibly dipped too far in the middle towards romanticising the relationship between the two (having a jolly weekend together while her parents were away, for example), for the most part the couple were tied together by strong, irrational bonds that governed them. It’s yet another example of Middleton being effectively translated to explore the complexity of contemporary morals, and a call for revived interest in the original play.
If you want to watch the drama, it’s available for another thirty days here.