|The Metamorphosis of Mansfield Square
Author: Wilusa PM
A Dark Shadows essay, tracing the antecedents of the show's first and most famous time travel sequence to two classic movies and a never-completed novel.Rated: Fiction K - English - Chapters: 2 - Words: 5,378 - Published: 05-02-03 - id: 1293932
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A modern man travels back in time and takes the place of a lookalike, namesake ancestor. He falls in love with the younger of two sisters. Unfortunately, he knows his ancestor married the elder sister...
Sounds intriguing, doesn't it?
But it doesn't sound anything like Dark Shadows.
However...the film treatments of the above plot, Berkeley Square (1933) and its color remake I'll Never Forget You (1951), contain striking parallels to DS. At the 1993 Fest, while waiting for the doors to open, I somehow found myself describing those parallels to two friends. They had never heard of either film, but they agreed the similarities were remarkable.
Nevertheless, I was unprepared for what I heard minutes later in the auditorium. DS writer Ron Sproat told us that in planning the 1795 sequence, head writer Gordon Russell had said, "I'd like to do Berkeley Square, if I can figure out how"!
So there we have it. An acknowledged connection.
Before proceeding, I should make clear that I've only seen I'll Never Forget You--and that just once, when I was 12 years old. (As far as I know, neither film is on tape or DVD or available for showing on TV.) It starred Tyrone Power--and, I think, Ann Blyth--and used the Wizard of Oz technique in which the main portion of the film (here, a 1784 sequence) is in color, bookended by black-and-white segments (the beginning and end in present time).
All I know with certainty about Berkeley Square is that it was black-and-white and starred Leslie Howard, who received an Oscar nomination. But I have an audio tape of a radio adaptation of I'll Never Forget You (with original star Tyrone Power, though his "performance" is about as exciting as a reading from the phone book). A few details--one significant--differ from what I remember, and probably reflect a return to the source, Berkeley Square. I'd guess that in other respects, the films were virtually identical.
The plot of I'll Never Forget You: Peter Standish is an American scientist living in London, in his family's ancestral home in Berkeley Square. (That's pronounced "Barkley," the British pronunciation.) Among the portraits on display is one of an 18th-century Peter who looks exactly like him. His study of family history has convinced him that even though there was an 18th-century Peter--come from America to court his distant cousin Kate Pettigrew--the two Peters were somehow transposed in time, and he himself sat for that portrait! He believes the experience is still in his subjective future. He's also convinced that "ancestor" Peter returned after a few months, and it was he who married Kate. When he confides all this to a close friend, the man fears for his sanity.
Peter is struck by lightning outside the house. When he regains consciousness he finds himself in 1784, dressed appropriately for that time period. His ancestor had also been struck by lightning, and in that instant, the two men had been exchanged.
He adapts quickly. He successfully impersonates his ancestor, and events unfold as he had anticipated. With one puzzling exception...
Peter had prepared for his adventure by studying historical records, letters, and the like until he knew the era--and his ancestors--in encyclopedic detail. But he had never learned Kate Pettigrew had a younger sister, Mary Ann. That gap in his prior knowledge troubles him more and more as he finds himself falling in love with Mary Ann.
He shares his secret with her. And they face the fact that they're in love, but will inevitably be torn apart. Clinging to him, Mary Ann vows tearfully, "I'll love you always, Peter! Now, in my time...in yours...and in whatever time will come."
Peter has made numerous slips in the 18th century, giving away his knowledge of events before they happen. His premature "invention" of the electric light hasn't helped matters. Accusations of witchcraft are hurled at him. To save him from a worse fate, his relatives have him dragged off to an insane asylum. (He already knows his ancestor will return, "cured," after a short stay in that asylum.) Before reaching it, he's apparently struck by lightning again...and when he regains consciousness he's back in his own time.
He's told he suffered a nervous breakdown and has been ill for months. Denouncing modern conveniences as works of the devil, trying to rip out electrical wiring, and so forth. His friend and the friend's sister Margaret--whom Peter had never met before his "illness"--have been caring for him in his home.
When he sees Margaret, he's horrified. She's a double for Mary Ann! He and the audience begin to suspect he really did have a breakdown, and "Mary Ann" was only a fantasy his sick mind had woven around Margaret.
He finds a small cross Mary Ann had tucked away in a place in the house that they knew wouldn't be disturbed. The whole point was that he'd find it still there in his own time, and he does.
But if he was ill and delirious, couldn't he have put it there himself?
At last the question is resolved. He runs to a nearby cemetery...and finds Mary Ann's grave. The dates on the headstone reveal she died in her early twenties, soon after losing him. Margaret, who has come up behind him, says something like, "So young...I wonder how she died?" Peter replies, "I think she died of a broken heart."
The audience is left to assume Mary Ann's name was stricken from the family records because she refused an arranged marriage. And Margaret may be her reincarnation.
Now for the parallels to Dark Shadows. To begin with, the portrait of a lookalike, namesake 18th-century "ancestor"--a portrait for which the modern man claims he posed--anticipates the famous portrait of Barnabas. And Peter Standish, in both centuries, is an American living in England. In the 18th century he's a visiting American cousin. Could that have influenced the decision to have Barnabas present himself as a cousin from England, the exact reverse situation?
The strongest parallels involve the 1795 storyline (1790 in the 1991 DS). A thunderstorm is raging in the present. Victoria Winters is transposed in time with an 18th-century woman--not her double or namesake, but her counterpart in another sense: a woman about to assume the same position she holds, governess. In I'll Never Forget You the modern Peter finds himself in 1784 moments after his ancestor, newly arrived in England, had alighted from his carriage in Berkeley Square. Similarly, Vicki is substituted for Phyllis Wick just as Phyllis is due to arrive at Collinwood.
Vicki, unlike Peter Standish, has a problem from the outset because of her strange clothing. But she falls back on the same excuse he uses to justify his habit of daily bathing: "It's the fashion where I came from." In the 1991 DS she actually teaches the children "Over the Rainbow," telling them it's popular in Boston! (Recall I'll Never Forget You's copying of the black-and-white bookending in The Wizard of Oz.)
Like Peter, Vicki makes repeated slips, revealing knowledge she shouldn't have. She has a better excuse than Peter, who knew what he was getting into and was supposedly well prepared.
In the most striking parallel, both time travelers are accused of witchcraft, though only in DS is the idea fully developed. In truth, only DS would have dared to fly in the face of history by setting an actual witchcraft trial in the late 18th century.
In DS the time traveler is a woman. But the man with whom she falls in love in the 18th century is, suggestively, named Peter. His vow to find her again in the future evokes memories of Mary Ann's "I'll love you always, Peter! Now, in my time...in yours...and in whatever time will come." It's not the same; but it is a suggestively similar parting scene, especially since we know Peter Standish was destined to meet a lookalike/possible reincarnation of Mary Ann in his own time.
In the original DS, Vicki also meets a lookalike of her 18th-century love: Jeff Clark. The moving final scene of I'll Never Forget You, with Peter and Margaret, takes place in a graveyard; Vicki first sees Jeff standing near a graveyard. (Of course, we later learn he was there as a grave robber!)
I've mentioned in passing that there are differences between the radio adaptation of I'll Never Forget You and my memory of the film--differences that suggest a return to the source, Berkeley Square. In my synopsis, I followed I'll Never Forget You as I remember it. Now I'd like to discuss those differences.
The names I remember as Mary Ann and Margaret are, in the radio adaptation, Helen and Martha. If those were the only discrepancies, I'd assume my memory was at fault (though it's hard to understand how I could have misremembered "Helen" as "Mary Ann"--my mother and sister were named Helen). Since they're not the only ones, I think it probable Helen and Martha seemed like good character names in 1933, but were rejected as distractingly old-fashioned in 1951.
[Note added 9/9/10: No one but me is likely to look at this piece, posted for seven years; but I'll still make a correction. I was finally able to purchase I'll Never Forget You on DVD, and I discovered the names actually were Helen and Martha! I still can't understand how I could have misremembered "Helen" as "Mary Ann," but the actress's being named Ann may have had something to do with it.]
This difference is far more significant. In the radio adaptation, when Peter returns to the present, he's told only ten minutes have passed since he was struck by lightning! As for Martha, Peter had known his friend's sister, whom he'd never met, was coming over that night. When she does, he's stunned by her resemblance to Helen. But the impact is far less than in the film I saw. Here, Peter's experience of Helen is over and done with before he lays eyes on Martha; he can't possibly have woven a fantasy around her. In the end, he and Martha find Helen's grave. But that too has less impact. Peter has been given less reason to doubt that his experience was real, that Helen existed.
Each of these endings was adapted in one version of Dark Shadows. Original DS used what I'm guessing was the Berkeley Square ending: Vicki spent months in the past, yet returned to her own time to find she'd been away only a few moments. In the 1991 DS, as in the film I'll Never Forget You, months passed in both centuries. And Phyllis Wick, before she succumbed to diphtheria, reacted to the modern world in much the same way as did the 18th-century Peter Standish.
In the films, I think the latter approach was clearly better. But it's impossible to judge with DS, since we'll never know how the 1991 version would have continued the story.
Some further thoughts, pure speculation. I find myself wondering about the order in which the original DS writers conceived their plot ideas for the 1795 sequence. All they had previously established was that Barnabas had been obsessively in love with Josette, the beautiful young wife of his uncle Jeremiah, and had killed Jeremiah. Now they wanted to show how he had become a vampire. And the explanation had to contribute to making him a more sympathetic character.
To give the audience a window into the 18th century, they decided to send Victoria Winters back as a Berkeley Square-style time traveler. But Vicki was a major character; once in the past, she'd need a storyline of her own. A love story, certainly. But beyond that, given the hints in their source, another obvious choice was to have her accused of witchcraft.
Suppose they began with that. The chain of reasoning may have continued like this: "Say, what if there really is a witch? And the real witch avoids detection by casting suspicion on Vicki, which is easy to do... Maybe it's this witch who makes Barnabas a vampire. Why? Well, maybe she's in love with him, and he's rejected her in favor of Josette. So then we're saying the main triangle involves this witch with Barnabas and Josette, and the Barnabas-Josette-Jeremiah triangle is secondary. Let's see...maybe Barnabas and Josette were lovers to begin with, and the witch, to get rid of Josette, made her believe she was in love with Jeremiah, and actually marry him. But Barnabas still rejected the witch..."
I can't be sure the story evolved in that way. But it seems possible. And if it did, the suggestion of witchcraft in Berkeley Square provided the main inspiration for the signature storyline of Dark Shadows!
The conclusion of this essay, in Chapter 2, will explain the title(!)--and discuss a famous author whose influence on DS extended beyond what most of us have realized.