They laugh alike, they walk alike, at times they even talk alike…..You can lose your mind! To enjoy this pleasant near-costume drama (set 70 years ago, so it really is almost a costume drama), you have to accept the premise that not only do the two identical men chance on each other by pure happenstance, but that the original doppelganger has somehow made it into his mid-thirties without a single distinctive scar, mole, blemish or tattoo. If it was good enough for Daphne du Maurier, it’ll have to do for us. These two guys from very different social classes not only look alike, they have exactly the same haircut, speak with the exact same accent, despite those very different social classes, and are precisely the same height and weight. And, conveniently, both named John. What’re the odds? Me, by the time I was in my mid-30’s, I had a half dozen scars that’d be noticeable by wife or mistress or adulterer. But that’s just me.
So, without spoiling too much, these two do the Life Swap we knew was inevitable from the moment they clapped eyes. The bounder takes the teacher’s clothes, the teacher lets the chauffeur stuff him in the Rolls for the ride to the majestic manor house. Where everybody instantly accepts him for being his caddish double. Probably because everybody in the house has their own preoccupations. We got drug addicts, feckless brother, adulterous sister in law, neurasthenic wife with depression, resentful sister, child whose over-adorability is kind of cringe-worthy, and the suspicious snarky help who enables this nest of useless gits. Tolstoy would have loved this brood. All happy families may be alike, but this unhappy family has everybody being unhappy in their own way. Oh, and the family is broke, the factory’s in trouble, the entail on the wife’s fortune, the peasants are depending on the people up in the big house….
In short order, the various adulteries and plate breakage and morphine overdoses are in full swing, and a mopey time is had by all. The imposter catfishes not only the bounder’s mistress (well, one of them) but also his wife, neither woman noticing anything “off” about the replacement’s body or mannerisms. Not exactly moral choices on the part of the “good” double, but he’s got to hurry up and go hunting with the gentry. Chekov’s gun makes an appearance. It’s all very upper class with this bunch of useless upper class twits, but all’s well by the finale. Sort of. I mean, our hero is lying to everybody and there’s that dead body and the adorable child’s father who’s…. Kind of complicated.
A glance at the Wikipedia indicates that the Daphne du Maurier original had a whole lot more murders, which I think might have improved this movie. “The Scapegoat” is alright for what it is; it looks lush and posh, Matthew Rhys is good enough. And it’s got that guy who was in “Game of Thrones” and “The Crown” and “Endeavor” and “Wolf Hall” and just about everything else, Anton Lesser! You’ll know him when you see him, here as a priest. I love that guy. This version of “The Scapegoat” is harmless entertainment with no suspense but nice scenery and decent performances by familiar British faces. That’s enough.