The Green Man, a coproduction of the Arts & Entertainment network and the BBC, is a three-hour oddity, an engaging combination of farce, thriller, and drama. The title has a couple of meanings: In England, ”the green man” is a scary creature, a bogeyman; in this story, it’s also the name of a 17th-century inn run these days by Maurice Allington. He’s played by Albert Finney as a hearty, boisterous fellow always ready to joke with the guests, bellow at the staff, and take a nip of the cooking sherry.
There’s a reason he drinks too much: Maurice keeps seeing 300-year-old ghosts — spirits of the original inhabitants of the Green Man. This rattles Finney’s Maurice so much that it’s causing trouble with his marriage; his wife, Joyce (Linda Marlowe), thinks he’s having delirium tremens. It’s also playing havoc with Maurice’s affair with his best friend’s wife (Sarah Berger). Our distracted hero can’t keep his mind on all the duplicitous details necessary to conduct a successful tryst.
The Green Man is a 1969 Kingsley Amis novel adapted for TV by Malcolm Bradbury, no mean novelist himself (The History Man, Eating People Is Wrong). Bradbury has turned the book into a spookier version of Fawlty Towers, with Finney the harried innkeeper running down hotel halls either to escape from ghosts or to rendezvous with his lover. As The Green Man proceeds, it turns darker, more disturbing — Maurice seems in danger of losing his mind. This is in keeping with Amis’ book, but it damages the TV movie, which loses much of the satirical (and satyrical) edge that makes the first two hours such an amusing romp.
Finney, though, is wonderful, giving a full-bore performance that makes you wish he had star film roles more often. B+