Brimstone and Treacle (1982)

Brimstone and Treacle (1982)

“I no longer accept there’s such a thing as a loving God, Norma.”

When a handsome young stranger (Sting) manipulates himself into the house of an atheist (Denholm Elliott) and his religious wife (Joan Plowright), he soon takes advantage of their disabled daughter (Suzanna Hamilton), all the while pretending to be her former lover.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Con-Artists
  • Denholm Elliott Films
  • Disabilities
  • Grown Children
  • Marital Problems
  • Psychopaths

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary refers to this odd flick — a cinematic adaptation of what was originally a 1976 BBC television play by Dennis Potter — as an “unusual, often unpleasant film” filled with “first-rate” acting (including “Sting’s best performance”), and “a good script, full of intriguing scenes.” He points out that the “most intriguing aspect of [the] film is that we can’t figure out Sting’s motives.”

As Peary asks, “Is he truly religious? Has he been dispatched by God or the devil? Is he trying to help the girl? Is he trying to destroy the family? Or is he trying to put the house in order? Is he trying to become master of the house?” All are reasonable hypotheses, and one is left truly uncertain throughout — especially given “interesting direction by Richard Loncraine” which occasionally turns experimental for no apparent reason other than to remind us we really don’t know what’s going on, or why.

Oddly enough, it’s this ambiguity which keeps us watching, as we wonder whether the film will turn out to be fantastical or simply a tale of a sinister sociopath wreaking havoc on a broken family. The fine performances and unusual storyline make this unnerving film worth at least a one-time look — but be prepared to get creeped out.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Sting as Martin Taylor
  • Denholm Elliott as Tom Bates
  • Joan Plowright as Normal Bates
  • Peter Hannan’s cinematography
  • Michael Nyman’s score (along with music by The Police)

Must See?
Yes, as an intriguing outing and for the fine performances.


  • Good Show


One thought on “Brimstone and Treacle (1982)

  1. First viewing (2/5/21). Not a must, but cult film fans will want to have a look-see.

    Using a trope sometimes beloved by British playwrights (see also Pinter, Orton, Emlyn Williams, etc.), Potter whipped up his own version of ‘what evil lies behind the suddenly-there-he-is total stranger’. And Loncraine serves up blatant preposterousness with a mixture of conviction and occasional abandon. He gets committed performances from his cast of mainly four (with a lively cameo at the end by Dudley Sutton) – and Sting acquits himself rather well opposite the more-seasoned co-stars.

    One may wonder what the meaning is supposed to be in all of this but the film is fashioned in such a way that the viewer can lay on top whatever seems to make the most sense on a personal level.

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