Previously on Life in Squares: Vanessa decided it would be a good idea for her and Duncan to have a kid together, so they did.
‘Everyone should be free to live as they please, otherwise we might as well be our parents.’
‘We took it on, didn’t we, marriage? We made it into something quite different. Can you do the same with death?’
The family’s relaxing in the garden on a lovely afternoon. Julian dashes off to answer the phone and Leonard asks if Julian’s still considering heading off to Spain, which is right in the middle of a bit of a civil war just now. Vanessa says he’s mentioned it, but he should really just rest now.
Julian finds her later, sorting through some broken bits of china and trying to think of something Pinterest-worthy to do with them. They gossip a little about Duncan’s latest paramour, George.
Inside, Vanessa and Duncan have a sad moment over a portrait of Lytton, who died not too long ago. Duncan mentions that he and George might be setting sail on the Queen Mary. She’s not too excited by the idea fo Duncan going away, but he reassures her he’ll come back. She basically responds with a fairly passive aggressive, ‘fine, go, whatever, I’m not going to stop you. Not like I’m your wife or anything. We all just do what we want here!’
In London, Vanessa meets Virginia for tea and finds her already with Vita Sackville-West, whom she very clearly does not approve of. Virginia chatters about her latest novel, which is selling well, while Vanessa eyes two rather chummy young men in the background. Virginia laughs about having been offered a rather high sum to go to America and talk about love and marriage. Vita asks Vanessa her thoughts on the subject and Nessa shrugs that she lives a very quiet life.
After tea, Vanessa worries that she’s become stagnant in life. Virginia waves that away. They agree that they’re not big fans of George, but Virginia tells Vanessa that she’s always managed to win over Duncan’s boys in the end. And Duncan, it would seem.
Back home, Vanessa looks at old photographs of herself and her family.
At dinner, Julian’s got a head of steam on, railing about the onward march of fascism in Spain. Vanessa agrees that it totally sucks, but giving up his life over the matter won’t help. She starts to get upset, and Angelica gets up and flees the room. Julian suggests just going over there to help, not to fight. He thinks it’ll give his life meaning. Vanessa quietly tells him there’s no way they can stop him.
So, he’s off. He and Angelica embrace. Outside, Duncan shares a cigarette with Vanessa and tells her that George is gone, having sailed without him. Before he leaves, Julian tells his sister to make sure their mother talks to her. She’s clueless as to what he could mean, but he’s not going to be the one to tell her about her true parentage. He leaves her inside, and as he bids his mother farewell, he urges Vanessa to come clean with her daughter. Vanessa admits she hoped that Angelica would have just figured things out on her own, but that doesn’t seem so likely. She hugs her son tightly and waves him off, along with the rest of the family.
Vanessa writes letters to her son. He’s working with ambulances. Angelica has gone to London to go to acting school and has reached out to Bunny. Vanessa notes archly that he seems to have taken on the role of protector with unusual gusto.
Bunny takes Angelica out to a bar and she rather clumsily flirts with him. He teaches her how to do vodka shots, which every teenager/young 20-something should really be schooled in. He talks about going to Russia when he was 12 and nearly freezing his feet off. As she gets a bit tipsy, Angelica says that her mother seemed to be in denial about Julian going, and Bunny notes that sounds like her.
Out of absolutely nowhere, he tells this girl that his wife’s dying of breast cancer. Also, he’s been kind of a crappy husband. There’s a shocker.
Vanessa’s letter continues. She’s working on a huge painting that’s so large she might not even be able to get it out of the studio.
Angelica reads a letter from Bunny while Nessa reads a letter from Julian. Duncan notes the secret smile Angelica gets on her face before taking off, and he wonders to Nessa if she and Bunny have been seeing a little too much of each other. Nessa’s like, ‘oh, you don’t think he’s sleeping with our daughter, do you? No, surely not, he’s such a dear friend.’ It seems to me that in this crowd, the dearer the friend, the more likely it is they are sleeping with someone close to you.
[cryout-pullquote align=”right” textalign=”left” width=”33%”]It seems to me that in this crowd, the dearer the friend, the more likely it is they are sleeping with someone close to you.[/cryout-pullquote]Angelica’s getting ready for a dance recital, by the look of things, and clutching a letter from Bunny promising her dinner afterwards, but it’s Duncan who shows up suddenly and takes her home, because Julian has died.
Vanessa sobs brokenheartedly while Angelica, still in her stage makeup, listens and reels in the hallway with Duncan. Nessa gathers herself enough to go to Julian’s trunk and pack a few things away. Angelica finally slips inside, but when she steps towards her mother, Nessa snaps at her to stay away.
Vanessa slides into a deep funk. Virginia comes and sits with her in the garden, while Angelica looks down from an upstairs window. Clive joins her and Angelica figures that the grief must be just as bad for him. Clive, horribly, says that his life is so full of things, the hole will fill up eventually. Holy shit, Clive, you’re talking about your son! What in god’s name would you ever fill that hole with? They’re really not making an effort to make him likeable or sympathetic, are they?
He continues that the hole won’t fill up for Vanessa. Angelica starts to wonder which parent she’s more like.
Duncan sits in the garden, painting, while Vanessa sits nearby, dully staring at nothing. He offers her a paintbrush but she shakes her head and instead reads one of Julian’s letters, in which he thanks her for his lovely life and once again urges her to have a serious talk with Angelica.
That letter does it: inside she goes so she can really, really awkwardly tell Angelica that Duncan’s her father. It’s so awkward that Angelica at one point actually thinks she’s about to get a sex talk. She takes the news calmly, though she’s clearly shocked to the core. Vanessa tries to put a positive spin on the whole thing, telling Angelica she’s a lucky little girl who has two daddies! Oh, but, maybe don’t mention this to Clive, because he really likes pretending he has a daughter.
Angelica wanders the house, coming to rest in the studio where Duncan’s painting while listening to If I Didn’t Care. Nothing like some heavy-handed musical accompaniment, right? She pours them both drinks and tells him she’s leaving drama college, because she doesn’t seem all that talented. He suggests she talk this over with her mother. She gets up and stomps out and he looks reasonably confused.
War is coming and Nessa and Virginia are hanging blackout curtains. They talk about how much it sucks that they’re having to go through all this again. Virginia then gently asks Nessa when she might start painting again. She tells Nessa that painting is what makes her Nessa and it would be good for her.
Bunny and Angelica have moved on to a full-blown affair. When she gets up to use the lavatory, he jokes about her not getting her prudery from Duncan, which gets a serious ‘ick’ look from her. Seriously, don’t reference the affair you had with your girlfriend’s father, Bunny, that’s really gross.
Later, she glances at a copy of Les Liaisons Dangereuses and says she found the marquise and Valmont unpleasant. He thinks they were incredibly honest, which she doesn’t agree with at all. He says she’s easy to tease and kisses her. She tells him her parents (all three of them) want him to come out to the country to be examined during her 21st birthday. He’s cool with that.
Naturally, he must make an entrance, so he flies in and is met by Angelica and Duncan. Bunny and Duncan have an awkward handshake-or-hug moment that resolves in a hug. Bunny then kisses Angelica and Duncan definitely looks uncomfortable.
At the house, Vanessa welcomes Bunny, who tells her how nice it is to be back.
Upstairs, Duncan and Nessa talk about how icky this relationship feels. Vanessa tries to talk herself into supporting it by saying that it might be good for Angelica to have an affair with an older man. Better than a younger man who might try to marry her. She councils calm in this situation, lest they risk driving her away.
In the distance, sirens sound. Duncan muses that the world’s falling down all around them.
Leonard briefly interrupts his wife at her work with a tea delivery and suggests moving supplies into their shelter, since raids are set to intensify. She wonders what’ll happen if they’re invaded, since they’re pretty close to the coast. She knows that if that happens, Leonard will, at least, be thrown into a camp. They talk about what they’ll do in case of an invasion and decide mutual suicide is the best. Good to have a plan, at least. After he leaves, she very deliberately crosses out everything on the page.
Bunny looks at the wall the mural Vanessa and Duncan painted years ago used to live on and wonders what used to be there. Even Vanessa can’t seem to remember. She brings up his relationship with Angelica and he tells her that he’s in love with her. She begs him not to take her daughter away and he reminds her that her daughter is a grown woman and is tired of being kept in a glass case. They accuse each other of wanting a little piece of Duncan. Bunny tells her that he’s not the bad guy here, that she needs to have a major talk with her daughter about…everything, and maybe if she’s really open and honest Angelica will stop seeing her as the enemy. The enemy? Ouch.
Nessa goes on a walk with Angelica, who doesn’t really want the company. Nessa admits that she’s been a bit closed off since Julian died, but she understand how her daughter feels about Bunny. Angelica points out that her mother doesn’t seem so good at love. Nessa tells her how much she loves Duncan. Angelica angrily asks if Vanessa ever thought of her daughter as an actual human being, back when she was deciding to conceive her. She accuses Vanessa of just looking on Angelica as another project, like a new studio or mosaic. Vanessa, not quite able to stop making this about her, insists that conceiving Angelica was the purest happiness she ever had in her life and Angelica screams that that has nothing to do with her.
Preparations are underway for the party. Virginia muses that Vanessa’s life always seems more real than her own.
Clive starts pouring wine, declaring this a day of no rationing. Angelica introduces Eribert, a student who lives just outside Munich whom she met in a music shop on Charing Cross Road and clearly just invited here to piss people off. He seems nice enough, and everyone’s nice enough to him.
Upstairs, Duncan and Bunny talk about Clive finally moving into the place permanently, as well as Duncan’s latest commission: decorating a church. They share a drink, and then Duncan asks his old friend what his intentions are concerning Angelica. Bunny laughs and mockingly calls him a Victorian patriarch. Duncan tells him that a serious affair at this age might be a mistake. Also, the age gap is a bit massive. Bunny starts ranting about the self-righteous little gang Duncan and Nessa have and how Bunny was never really part of the gang. Probably because you’re kind of a dick, Bunny.
He stomps downstairs and immediately starts proving my last bit by sneering at ‘the Kraut’ and then asks Angelica, in front of everyone, if she’s thought anymore about his proposal. She stomps out and Duncan calls Bunny a shit for ruining everything for everyone.
The Stephens sisters decamp upstairs, where Virginia tries to make light of things. Vanessa is in no joking matter and can’t imagine what she’ll do if Angelica marries Bunny. She then cruelly tells Virginia she couldn’t possibly understand, and Virginia gets angry and says that she used to be upset about not having any kids, but over the years she’s become grateful, because having children seems to blind you. They ease up before things get too heated. Virginia says that Leonard, the most reasonable man she knows, believes the young should be left to make their own mistakes. Vanessa reminds her that she did that with Julian and it killed him. Virginia brings up their own determination to be free after their father died and says they shouldn’t deny Angelica the same thing.
The party is still going on, somehow. Some of the younger set sift through records and dance in the garden. Virginia smokes moodily. Later, as she and Leonard go to leave, she embraces her niece and kisses her sister, gives her a sad look, and is gone.
Virginia writes her sister a letter, saying she’s going mad again, hearing voices, and she knows she won’t get over it this time. She can’t manage any longer.
Vanessa goes to visit Leonard, who’s bearing up as well as can be expected. He admits he still finds himself looking for her, even though he knows she’s gone. Vanessa sighs that she wishes she knew how bad it had gotten. Leonard says that people keep saying Virginia killed herself because of the war, and they got a particularly nasty letter from a bishop’s wife basically accusing Virginia of cowardice. Wow, what a fine Christian woman.
On her way home, Vanessa stops to watch some planes wheel overhead.
Duncan’s listening to a comedy show, the Crazy Gang, back at the house. He immediately sobers up when she arrives, but she doesn’t mind him finding things funny. She goes over to check out his latest work and offers some critique. Looks like someone’s getting their mojo back at last. She grabs a paintbrush and they start getting to work.
Some time later, Duncan’s at work in the church, along with Vanessa. They’re joined by a rather pregnant Angelica, so I guess she did marry Bunny after all. She looks up at the scene they’re painting: the birth of Jesus. She identifies the baby as Julian and Duncan as Joseph, and Duncan says that she’s the Madonna. So, she’s given birth to her own brother and is married to her father? Egh. She puts his hand on her belly and tells him this is his grandchild, in case he wasn’t certain. She asks Vanessa if marriage suits her and Vanessa immediately responds that everything suits Angelica. Angelica says that the two of them have actually made everything in the church work. ‘Yes, perhaps we have,’ Vanessa says quietly, smiling proudly at her daughter.
That was ok. Nice, but not something I’ll ever personally feel the need to watch again. I think I was expecting it to be a bit more of a story about the Bloomsbury Group, but in reality it was just the story of Nessa and Duncan, with a little Virginia tossed in there. And that’s fine, but I think that, in light of that, the title should have been reconsidered. The ‘Love in Triangles’ bit would have made more sense. What was the square, in this situation? Eh, whatever.
If I really had to quibble, I’d say Clive really got shitty treatment here. I know he’s always been one of the least popular members of the group, but good lord, they were really working overtime to make him seem like a fairly monstrous asshole, weren’t they? Who blithely says that they’ll get over the death of their child soon enough? And parades his girlfriends around and can’t be bothered to spend a night under the same roof as his young children?
But whatever. Like all BBC programmes, it was beautifully shot and wonderfully acted. I just didn’t feel like I cared much what was going on.