The Monocled Mutineer (1986)
Starring: Paul McGann (Percy Toplis), Bill Fellows (Geordie), Matthew Marsh (Charles Strange), Anthony Calf (Guinness), Jane Wood (Annie Webster), Ron Donachie (Strachan), Timothy West (Thomson), Dave Hill (Frank Webster), Penelope Wilton (Lady Angela Forbes), Jerome Flynn (Franny), Cherie Lunghi (Dorothy), David Allister (General Asser), Geoff Morrell (Aussie Gas Mask), Louis Mellis (Scots Gas Mask), Philip McGough (Edwin Woodhall), Patrick Doyle (Gilzean), Aran Bell (Fellows), Billy Clarke, Terry Cundall (Bertram), Peter Hutchinson (Norman), Ted Richards (PC Fulton), Richard Ireson (Inspector Ritchie), David Miller (Spruce).
2 DVD set of a TV series about the mutiny of soldiers against the harsh British training Camp Etaples, France in 1917 on the eve of the Passchendaele battle
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
A man is driving really fast. So fast that on a really sharp turn he stalls his engine. His passenger opens his door and starts running for his life. The driver shoots three times at the fleeing man.
The man who was shot at tells the authorities: "He shot him. Then he tried to shoot me. He's killed lots of people. He's wanted by the Secret Service."
April 29, 1920. The Daily Mail headlinessays: "Toplis found guilty in absence." The next day the headline is that the manhunt continues for Percy Toplis.
Toplis hitches a free ride on a train. Later he shoots at a railroad worker, who then goes to police headquarters identifies the man with the gun as Toplis.
Toplis stands in the middle of the road awaiting the coming of a police car with two policemen on the side bars readying themselves to shoot at Toplis. Toplis readies himself to shoot at the police. Action stops.
Episode 1. The Making of a Hero.
Flashback. Mansfield, County Nottinghamshire, England 1908. (Mansfield is 123 miles north of London.) Toplis is a young boy of 11 years appearing before a judge. The judge notes that the boy has been in court several times before, but never in Sunday school. His father deserted the family and his mother has "contributed little" to the boy's upbringing. Right now the boy is being cared for by his mother's sister-in-law. Toplis receives six whacks with a bundle of birch branches and two days in jail.
Blackwell, Nottinghamshire, 1910. (Now called Stanton Hill. Blackwell Colliery Company took over the original Skegby Colliery. Located three miles west of Mansfield.) The men are coming off their shift. It's almost dark. Percy's paternal aunt scolds Percy for not sleeping during the day and then going to work at night. She and her husband are worried about the boy's future. His uncle come into the house and tells Percy he's late once again. He calls him an "idle frigger".
In the local pub, Percy plays the piano and sings when Mr. Johnson from the Colliery slams the piano key cover on the young fellow's hands, while shouting: "What's thou doing here?" Percy is supposed to be at his job as an apprentice blacksmith. Johnson and the manager Todd grab Percy and carry him out of the pub, while the customers all applaud.
When Toplis finishes his shift he starts walking home. Johnson and Todd yell for him to come back, but Percy just ignores them. So they yell at him not to come back to work.
When Uncle Frank comes home from his shift, his wife has to tell him the Percy left taking five shillings, Frank's bike and a suit of his clothes. Along the road Percy steals a car. He goes to pick up a young woman.
Percy is in court again. He is given a sentence of two years in prison. He calls the judge an old fart and has to be removed forcibly from the court.
Lincoln, autumn 1914. Percy gets out of jail. There are war posters on the building walls of town. And he sees a squad of soldiers marching down the street singing: "It's a long way to Tipperary".
Percy gets his meals at the Salvation Army. There they talk to the men about joining the army. Percy doesn't seem interested. While the group sings a hymn, Percy steals the recruiter's coat and some food and runs out. He goes down to a pub and wants to hustle the army men there at the game of pool. One of the soldiers calls Percy a frigging coward.
At the front lines, World War I.
Loos September 1915. (The Battle of Loos, 9/25 to 10/14, was one of the major British offensives. The Germans suffered 25,000 casualties and the British suffered twice that number of casualties.) Percy is at the front. Preparations are being made to go over the top. The men have to wear gas masks as the British will be using poison gas for the first time in the war. Percy is one of the stretcher bearers. The whistle blows and the soldiers go over the top of the trenches. The British release toxic gas that is then is blown by the wind over the British positions and many British soldiers are gassed and collapse in the trenches.
Back in the dugout the guys asks Percy to do his circus routine. Percy gets up and acts as the ring master telling jokes about the various acts and animals at the circus.
The sergeant comes over and tells the lads that they need to get a good night's sleep because they are going to need it where they're going tomorrow. In the morning the guys have to go over the top again. Percy and a buddy of his, Geordie, in the stretcher corps watch as men are shot down one after the other. Percy says it's a bloody slaughter. He asks why do they even send more boys out given that it's a slaughter. Finally, someone gives the order to fall back. An officer holds up his pistol in his right hand and shouts at the retreating men: "Hold your positions! Go forward!" A bullet knocks the officer down.
After the men are in the trenches, the guys around Percy benefit from some liquor Percy stole. The sarge comes and confiscates the liquor. Now he gives Percy a job to do. The job is to stay up all night with a "sick" man who is not expected to last through the night. Sarge gives Percy back the liquor jug. Percy sits with three other guys at a small table. One of the fellows, Cruikshank, is a mental wreck. He wants Percy to listen to his story. He was an officer and they were in an area undergoing three days and nights of bombardment. On the morning of the fourth day, they had to advance, while the artillery shells kept falling around them. He was the only officer left alive of a large group of officers. The enlisted men were waiting for orders from him when he dropped his pistol and ran away screaming. The officers stripped him of his commission. He was court-martialed as a private for cowardice.
Cruikshank is going to be executed for his cowardice. He is afraid of the execution. He panics when they tell him it's time to go. The men of the firing squad can hearing Cruikshank crying and moaning. They tie him in a chair while he cries for help. The firing squad guys are all a little drunk. No one hits Cruikshank in a killing place. So the officer in charge has to take out his pistol, walk over to Cruikshank and shoot him in the head. One man on the firing squad faints, while another throws up. Percy has the job of being the stretcher bearer for Cruikshank.
Percy is shocked at what happened to Cruikshank. He says the whole thing with the army is a joke. His buddy tells him that there is nothing any enlisted men can do about the army. Percy disagrees. He says that's what the army wants the enlisted men to think -- that they can't do anything about any of it. Percy tells his buddy that there is something he might be able to do about it.
Percy and Geordie put on officer's uniforms. They are going to an officer's brothel, but Geordie says they will catch and punish him. Percy assures him that he will be with Geordie all the time and he will be able to talk him or the both of them out of trouble. They start walking to the brothel, but Geordie chickens out. He says he just can't do these things that Percy finds so easy to do. Geordie turns back. Percy continues forward. As he approaches the building, he sticks a monocle in his right eye and tells people to call him Lt. Cruikshank. He goes into a private room with one of the prostitutes.
The next morning, Percy has to carry Geordie's body all by himself through the trenches. Later, while waiting for Geordie to recover, he goes through Geordie's personals effects.
Blackwell Autumn 1915. Percy goes home to Blackwell. There is a huge dinner in his honor. He is dressed as a captain in the army. The men applaud loudly for Percy. The speaker tells the dinner guests: ". . . we have amongst us a returning hero!" They all toast to King George. Percy gets up and gives a very brief speech. Percy obviously likes being the center of attention.
Percy now visits Mrs. Cruikshank to tell her about her son, Anthony. They have tea together. The woman expresses her disappointment that the letters from the army were so brief and impersonal, whereas letters to the mothers of other boys killed in service to their country were warm and personal. She asks Percy about how her son died? Percy says her son was outnumbered, blinded, stumbling, but he kept walking toward the guns of the enemy. He adds that he and another fellow carried her son's body back to the British lines. She asks if her son said anything before he died. He says her son said: "Mother!" Mrs. Cruikshank cries.
Percy says he has to go back to London, but he is in an unfortunate state. He stayed in a hotel last night and his wallet and checkbook were taken by a thief in the night. Naturally, Mrs. Cruikshank not only pays for the trip back to London, but also gives Percy the money for his hotel bill. As Percy starts leaving, Mrs. Cruikshank thanks him for "an act of great kindness" to her and her family.
Percy now inspects the Blackwell local reserve military as they march by him. He has been asked to inspect the soldiers. Percy really puts the men through the paces, doing all kinds of soldierly maneuvers. They makes mistakes, which the large group watching them laugh at. After Percy finishes with the entire group, he singles out his two former bosses: Misters Todd and Johnson. He really drills them. Percy orders them to take a prone position in the coal covered field. The crowd laughs and laughs. He then has the two men charge, until one of them gets disgusted and sits down on a coal heap.
Percy now has his photo taken at a photography studio in his fancy captain's uniform.
Part 2. Before the Shambles.
Etaples Training Camp, France, June 1917. (Etaples is 15 miles south of Boulogne-sur-Mer, a city in northern France and a sub-prefecture of the department of Pas-de-Calais on the coast.) Drill instructors harass the guys guilty of various army rules violations. One man has been tightly tied to a rope and his wrists bleed a bit. Percy sits, along with the other soldiers, on the side of a road. A soldier he knew back in 1915 greets him and asks him what has he been up to these days? Percy says he was almost sent to Mesopotamia, but the boat stopped at Malta after the Allied defeat in Mesopotamia. He spend time in Malta, then went A.W.O.L. (absent without leave), got caught and then was sent here to Etaples. The other fellow says the unit really misses Percy, mainly because of all the misbehavior Percy and the Cockney got into.
At the barracks there are a lot of men tied to posts. Some of the Australians start cutting the ropes of their tied-up friends. This gets the military police sent out. One of them, Reeve, says he hates Australians. The sergeant tells the men to go easy on the Aussies, but when officer Strachan shows up, they have to get tough. The police walk over to the Australians and tell them to re-tie those men to their posts. The Aussies say they won't do it and call the policemen "trench dodgers". Soon enough a fight breaks out between the two groups.
Gen. Thomson tells fellow officer Capt. Strachan that the Aussies don't have much discipline in their ranks. One reason for this, he says, is that they don't have any death penalty. Another reason, according to the general, is their criminal genetic streak caused by Australia first being a place where criminal were sent. On the other hand, says the general, people do tell him that the Australians are brave in battle. Strachan tells Thomson not to worry. The men will not be delayed in being shipped to the front lines.
Lady Angela Forbes wishes to speak with General Thomson. The lady has been kept waiting and now she looks mad as hell. She goes into the office, where the general apologizes to her for the delay. But then he just leaves the lady there in his office while he takes a stroll with Capt. Strachan. She comes out and watches as the two men walk away from the building.
When the regular army formations march past the rule violators, they bray like sheep at them. By the sea the prisoners have to dig trenches in the sand and fill up sandbags with the sand. Percy and another fellow who is a red-head are complaining about all this nonsensical work. They stop working and look out onto the water. A drill instructor comes up and asks the red-head what the hell does he thing he's doing? Percy tries to talk for the fellow, but the instructor insists on talking to "carrot head". As punishment, they have to grab their empty sand bags and go to an area where the sand is dry. There they will continue filling up the sandbags.
The soldiers now have to run through a long obstacle course. One of the "red cross bastards" is slow because he just got out of the hospital. The fellow tells the instructors that he is a medic, not an infantryman. The drill instructors don't care and harass him even more. Because of the medic being so slow, the drill instructors say the whole unit has to go back to the start and run the obstacle course all over again.
The rule breakers with their gas masks are sent into a little shed filled with gas. But the guys know that one of their men is just not fit enough to be subjected to the gas. They protest to the drill instructor. So the other drill instructors are called over and one of them just picks one man out and beats the hell out of him. Then they throw the not fit fellow into the gas shed. One of the protestors cynically thanks his fellows for their support, but Percy tells the protestor: "That's not the way. You don't play fair with those bastards. You play the game the way they play it, without any rules." The not-fit guy comes out of the shed coughing head off. And then he throws up.
Lady Angela Forbes witnessed the incident and becomes extremely angry. She marches over to speak with Gen. Thomson in his office. When she goes in she asks the general to have Capt. Strachan leave the room. The general thinks he can just talk over her, but she is so angry she won't be stopped. She speaks of witnessing the acts of "humiliation and cruelty" committed by Strachan's drill instructors. The general interrupts her saying he has already dealt with this issue seeing as Lady Forbes wrote a protest letter about the subject to his superior officer and told half of London society about it. The general is not sympathetic at all to her concerns, which only makes her madder. She says that they are sitting on a powder keg and it's about to blow up. Lady Forbes says the instructors are just too brutal. The lady goes on to say that Strachan has her servants questioned about who are her dinner guests and Strachan himself even follows her around in his car trying to intimidate her. And when she has to be at a meeting with Strachan present, all the man does is leer at her. The general has a bad attitude. Instead of trying to make things a bit better, the general just calls the woman a "civilian" and not qualified to judge the techniques used in the army.
Percy is preparing some retaliation against the instructors. The sarge walks by the hiding Percy. But some other prisoner gets to the sarge before Percy does. Franny hits the sarge hard over the head with something and sarge crumples to the ground. Percy gets a huge smile on his face and runs back to the barracks.
Geordie has just gotten out of the hospital. He tells the guys that the hospital is a sanctuary, a veritable paradise compared to their place. One of the fellows, Charles Strange, protests against the conditions at the camp and the war in general, telling Percy he is a socialist and a pacifist. The guys go out into the woods where a lot of chaps hang out. Percy learns that there are chaps all over the woods, not just here.
Arras, August 1917. Percy is back at the front. (Battle of Arras, April 9-May 16, 1917, a British offensive with 158,000 casualties for the Allies and from 120,000 - 130,000 casualties for the Germans. The Allies made some advances, but soon had to settle back into regular trench warfare.) Percy and Geordie notice that another court-martial is going to take place. This one is for the men eating their Rhine rations when they were stuck in non-man's-land. Percy is fed up and tells Geordie that he is going back to Etaples.
He locks the officers taking showers into the shower room. Then he grabs a corporal and tells him to grab four officers' uniforms off the shower room hooks, with nothing below the rank of captain. The corporal, named Gilzean, asks if he could go with Percy. Percy, as a Captain, takes him along to Etaples.
Lady Angela speaks with an officer named Johnny Guiness as they go horse back riding. She says Johnny is out of touch with the men who are being bullied to death. The lady insists that Etaples will explode. Strachan is following them in his car. Lady Angela tells Johnny to head up the steep hill in order to lose Strachan. They take off on their horses heading upwards.
Out in the woods with some of the men, Percy and the corporal show up. Percy gives three officers uniforms to three hand-picked men. Charles Strange gets one of the uniforms.
Going back to camp, Charles tries to convert Percy over to socialism, but Percy won't hear of it. He finally tells Charles: "Listen. I don't care. It's as simple as that." As they walk along there seems to be a little riot going on. The officers, armed with pistols, are chasing down the soldiers from the encampment, who keep trying to get away from them. The officers shoot some of the men. Percy sees that among the soldiers are Geordie and Gilzean.
A couple of dozen men were grabbed from the encampment. When everyone gets back together Percy tells them that they have to find a better hiding place for their encampment. The men believe the captured renegades will be court-martialed and then shot. A French man wants Percy to take the men left and free the renegades. Percy objects that they will be out-numbered 100 to 1. A fellow tells Percy: "Jesus, you're a callous bastard, Perce. Doesn't it make you angry?" Percy tells him don't get mad, get even. Undoubtedly, Percy is going to think of some way to get his revenge.
Sunday, September 9, 1917. A bunch of guys want to go into town, but the guards at the gate won't let them pass. The guys start protesting to the guards, asking them to let them in. The guys start getting rowdy and soon they are pushing the guards backwards. One of the guards is knocked down. Another guard pulls out a pistol to fire at the men; a soldier deflects the guard's pistol up a bit; the guard fires the weapon and hits one of the men in the left cheekbone area as he stands by the side of the road talking to a pretty girl. The guards start running away. One is caught, thrown to the ground and hit and kicked. It's a large group that now runs toward town. When they hit town some of the soldiers are firing the pistols they took away from the guards. It's a real riot now! The men break into the local tavern and the telegraph office. They grab what they want (beer mainly) and the run back out into the streets.
Percy is in a fancy restaurant playing cards. Gen. Thomson calls for help, but it being Sunday, nobody is around headquarters. He asks where is Strachan and is told he's on a picnic at the Paris Plage. The general goes into action asking for more guards at all the gates and all officers are to be in plain sight of the rioters, in order to have a calming effect on the soldiers.
A bunch of the soldiers head to the British Soldiers' Buffet, which is run by Lady Angela and her women. When they reach Lady Angela she asks the soldiers if this is a revolution? One soldier says no and then a bunch of them grab Lady Angela and hoist her up into the air. They carry the lady with them, that is, until they see some "red caps" (military police). They quickly put Lady Angela on the ground and rush over to get the red caps. Meanwhile, at cards Percy is winning all the hands.
Capt. Strachan comes riding up in his car. The men start harassing him verbally. He tells his woman driver to get the hell away from here. It's just not safe for her. She leaves. The ladies are all gathered together and put into a safe place behind barbed wire. The men gather around and make cat calls at the women who are afraid and are running into a building. Once inside, their woman commander leads them in the song All Things Bright and Beautiful. Some men outside start singing along with the women. Some of the men exposes themselves or moon the women in the building. They grab two women found outside the barbed wire area and start raping them. A small truck with a machine gun mounted on the back stops to rescue the women. The machine gunner threatens to open fire on the men if they don't let that woman go. Two guys from the truck run over and grab the women and bring them over to the back of the truck.
Strachan tells Thomson that there are now thousands of men out there running riot! Some people are even being killed out there! Thomson looks out his headquarters' window and asks where did his pickets go!? In fact they are being overrun by rioting soldiers. Now Thomson takes the matter seriously and calls Colonel Mason to tell headquarters just how bad is the riot at Etaples. All of a sudden, a huge group of soldiers bust into Thomson's office. They have their faces hidden by bandanas or gas masks. The leader hands Thomson a piece of paper.
Percy leaves the fancy restaurant and puts his monocle over his right eye. A Lt. James Davies comes over and introduces himself to Percy. He then asks if they can take a little walk together. After awhile, they grab a cabbie and go back to Etaples. By the time the officers arrive at Etaples, the soldiers seem to be in complete control of the training camp. The soldiers tell the officers that they better run for it and the officers don't hesitate very long to make a run away.
Buildings have been set on fire. Carts and wagons are burned. Davies and Percy arrive at headquarters. A sergeant rushes into headquarters saying that the soldiers are burning down one of the red-cap buildings. An officer tells the officer on duty to get 50 men from the depot and guard bridge number two. The officer on duty now turns to Davies and gives him the same order. Davies turns to say something to Percy, but the man has disappeared.
Some of the soldiers try to cross bridge number two but are held off by soldiers with bayonets on their rifles. Behind the soldiers comes Davies and his soldiers from the Depot. He forces his way through the soldiers. But now a huge groups of soldiers arrive on the scene. A very large man speaks with Davies and asks him to step away from the bridge or else they will have to use their loose guns on him and his men. Davies says: "Stand aside men!" Now the men go across the bridge accompanied by music from the bagpipes. Percy is the last to cross. He turns around to smile at Davies.
Part 3. When the Hurly-Burly's Done
Etaples, September 9, 1917. The soldiers are in the town still drinking and partying. Percy is in the brothel (brief nudity). The soldiers in headquarters sit down in chairs and start talking to Thomson and Strachan. They want Thomson to sign their piece of paper. One of the men goes over the demands again: military police and Strachan to be removed; improved general conditions and food; the town to be more accessible to private soldiers; and no reprisals. The general makes it clear that he is just not going to sign the paper. Strachan tells the men that their bluff has been called. This gets Strachan hit in the mouth with the butt end of a rifle.
Now Thomson and Strachan are carried over to a bridge. Thomson tells the large crowd that he has nothing to say. Strachan and Guinness are pushed over the side into the water. Then Thomson is pushed into the water. The three officers get out of the water okay. Thomson calls and asks for the commander of the 9th Cavalry Brigade.
The next morning Thomson and the commander of the 9th Cavalry Brigade drive around with a few soldiers in a truck behind them. The commander mentions to Thomson that it doesn't look to him like the soldiers are under control.
A group that led the revolt now come into the woods looking for the groups in the woods to join with them. Little progress is made until Percy is asked to get up there and give a little public speech. Percy does go up front and he says the men from the training camp are right. The military blokes in Etaples started this whole thing and the soldiers are going to be the ones to finish it.
Now the woods groups march into the camp. Percy tells the soldiers that they want to cause the maximum of damage, so they should split four ways. One group will take the detention compound, another the bullring (Training Camp No. 1); another will split and attack the trains and anything else around.
Thomson gets a telegram. :Reinforcements for the front are piled up at Boulogne awaiting the restoration of discipline and order. A report reveals that every single man that was sent down to camp one for training has sat on the sand and refused to budge." The total of men involved is 3,500.
Percy negotiates with the head of the detention compound. They agree to make it look good, complete with a few lumps, and the compound will be in the hands of the soldiers. So Percy strikes the fellow, knocking him down. He then asks the fellow: "Was that all right?" Some men seek revenge on certain guards. They tie one fellow to a post and start hitting him. The men in the compound start pouring out. One fellow says he knew Percy would come for them. He says Percy is real hero.
The general has his car stopped because he wants to talk to a large group of men. But the men don't want to hear from him. Thomson tells them to get back to their units, but they just ignore him. Percy suddenly jumps in the car with the general, but the general just keeps telling him to get out of his car. The general says the cavalry will arrive tonight and then the rebellious soldiers will be straightened up. Percy has to give up on the general, but he tells Thomson that the soldiers will win.
The Chief Provost Marshal and General Asser come to see Thomson. The men come in and say outside force now has to be used. Unfortunately, the soldiers have to be brought from the front line. They ask Thomson how many men does he need to put down the rebellion? Thomson says it would be great if they could send the cavalry. The men say they will provide Thomson with the best of men, but the earliest they could possibly reach the training camp is tomorrow night. Before the two men leave, they tell Thomson that Strachan is gone. He transferred out at his own request.
Thomson calls back Brigadier General Charlesworth. Charlesworth is an old friend of Thomson, who calls him Dickie. He says he needs some assistance soon. He needs Charlesworth and his men. He just asks for 300 men.
Guinness goes to see Lady Angela. Apparently, she has been told to leave France. The lady can't believe it. She asks why? Guinness says Strachan is gone and so she has to be gone too. Lady Angela protests that she hasn't done anything wrong. Guinness reminds her that in war there are always innocent victims. She wants to say goodbye to everyone, but Guinness say no. They leave together and the men start asking where is she going?
Percy says they only have one change to escape being shot by the troops that are being called in. That's to get Thomson to sign the paper recognizing the legitimate grievances of the soldiers in the training camp. A soldier comes rushing in shouting ". . . there's two Red Caps and a Canary been spotted in the garret. . . . Come on!" Everyone runs out of the building, except Percy and Charles. Percy takes Charles down to the brothel.
In his office Thomson pours a drink for Guinness and says: "It's all bollocks, isn't it?" He is afraid that he is going to be sacked or sent to the Outer Hebrides. He also reminisces about when he was the Commandant of the Royal Military Academy at Woodwich, 1908 to 1911. There he was criticized for being too lax and left the school. Throughout the conversation Guinness says nothing. Thomson leaves his office. Now Guinness drinks his liquor and says to himself: "Gone, gone and never called me mother."
September 14, 1917. The soldiers get together and discuss the issue of when they will stop and how they will stop. Percy adds: "If we stop." He goes on to say that they have one big bluff yet to play, but they have to do it now. The bluff is the attack on the arsenal itself. The threat is that they will blow up the gas depot.
Guinness takes a call from Charlesworth and, even though Thomson is just sitting in his car outside his office, Guinness says Thomson is gone and it's too late to catch him.
Thomson comes riding up in his car and the soldiers quickly surround him. He stands up in the convertible car and shouts at them: "Call yourselves soldiers?" That gets him booed. Not a good introduction to what he came to say. He now says he is prepared to accede to some of the soldiers' demands. Now the soldiers start cheering, saying: "We won."
Thomson comes into a building to speak with Percy. With the threat of the explosion of the gas depot, Thomson signs the list of soldier demands. He then says that they should be ashamed of what they have done. Thomson adds that not one of the soldiers can look him straight in the eye, man to man. At this, Percy pulls down the cloth that hides most of his lower face. Thomson recognizes him. He asks Percy who is he? Percy turns the tables asking Thomson: "And who are you, anymore?"
When Thomson returns to his office, Guinness tells him that Charlesworth called and can take action with one hour's notice. Thomson asks Guinness when did this call come in? Guinness says sometime after Thomson left this morning. Thomson tells him to call Charlesworth and tell him that "the hour has passed". Rubbing salt into his wounds, Guinness tells him about two other units headed their way. Thomson closes the door on Guinness.
Back with his prostitute, Percy dons his captain's uniform and his monocle and kisses the woman goodbye on her forehead. The units have arrived at Etaples without resistance and now the officers confer on what should happen next. They wants to get the "mutineers" out of Etaples as quickly as possible. They will be going directly to the front. "Give them a few days in Passchendaele and they'll either be dead or damn glad to be alive."
Under the leadership of the Secret Service man Edwin Woodhall, the men in the forest are rounded up by the red caps. Percy watches one of the round-ups from his hiding place.
Woodhall speaks with Thomson about this "Gordon Highlander" with an English accent. Thomson remarks that when the man smiled, he looked like an officer. He adds that the man had confidence and really had control over the other soldiers. Woodhall says he will have an artist work up a sketch of the man's face. Thomson says Woodhall better hurry up, because they tell him he is going to get an illness. (His bags are packed.)
Percy with some friends hide out in the forest. The guys talk about going to Boulogne, but Percy says he will go, but not just yet. His friends tell him that if the authorities are looking for anyone, it's Perce. Strangely, Percy says to them: "What, me? No, I don't think so. What did I do? I was just having a laugh." The two friends say goodbye to Perce and take off for Boulogne.
Woodhall speaks very empathetically to some of the guys who are scared or exhausted. He tells them what they want to hear. One of the fellows tells Woodhall that Perce was a hero. He then gives up Percy's real name: Percy Toplis. A wanted poster with a sketch of Percy's face and his real name is duplicated and hung up all around the area.
Percy, dressed as a captain, sees the wanted poster. He takes it down, folds it and puts it in a pocket.
Rang du Fliers, October 1917. (Rang du Fliers is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of northwest France.) Woodhall puts on the disguise of a priest in the military. He comes into a bar where Percy is playing the piano and singing his favorite song. He claps for Percy's performance and asks Percy if he could buy him a drink. The man seems to be moving too fast on Percy, who says he can't because he has to catch a train. When Percy keeps saying no, Woodhall pulls out a revolver and blows a whistle for assistance. Up pop military policemen all over the place.
In the back of a military police vehicle, Woodhall taunts Percy by telling him that they just executed their first mutineer: Gilzean. They take him back to Etaples and put him in the brig. He is roughed up a bit and then thrown into a cell. There's another soldier in the cell with him. He watches as Percy counts the number of steps a guard takes going back and forth and looking through the peep hole to make sure Percy is still there. Percy stands on a box with a noose around his neck. He counts off the number of steps and just as the fellow arrives to look through the peep hole, his cellmate removes the box and Percy drops. The guard hurriedly unlocks the cell door, while the cellmate puts Percy's feet onto the box. When the guard goes to pull Percy down, Percy knees him and the cellmate jumps on him. The two cellmates crawl under the barbed wire and escape.
Derbyshire, August 1918. (Derbyshire is a county in the East Midlands of England.) Percy., now sporting a mustache, walks down the lonely road and sees a damsel in distress. Her car has overheated. He hides and puts on his captain's uniform. Percy now helps the lady out. In return, he is taken to a posh restaurant to have lunch with the woman. He entertains Dorothy with his witty stories about the war. Later he tries to get Dorothy to let him stay overnight with her. She tells him she promised herself not to entertain anyone in her deceased husband's house. She does, however, give him her telephone number.
The next day Percy is in bed with Dorothy (brief nudity).
Percy sells his pocket watch to the taxi driver and gets some money from a soldier who is wearing medals he did not earn, thereby giving Percy the opportunity to threaten him with the exposure of the fellow's pretense. He returns to Dorothy's house and she protests to him that he is gone for weeks at a time. Percy soothes matters over with her.
Woodhall grabs a man in a local bar only to find out that it's not Percy Toplis.
Part 4. A Dead Man on Leave.
Derbyshire, November 1919. Dorothy rows the boat on the lake while Percy sits and reads the newspaper. She stops rowing and tells Johnny Walker (Percy's alias) that she has a nickname for him: My Mr. Sometimes. She says she was going to call him Mr. One-Weekend-In-Five. He fires back that she has never allowed him into her house. Dorothy says okay, but then pleads with him not to go this time. Johnny, however, has seen in the paper that Charles Strange is running for election in the Borough of Southwark, south London. He tells Dorothy that he has to got to London.
Percy sneaks into Dorothy's house. There is very little inside. He then puts his monocle on the arm of the chair in the room and leaves.
He hitches a ride on the back of a truck to see his aunt and uncle. He walks down a street and his Aunt Mary greets him. Percy sits down and talks with his Uncle Frank and his aunt who raised him. Aunt Mary tells him that his mother has been missing him. She's almost blind and is all alone. Percy is not interested in his mother. His aunt and uncle were the only parents he ever had. In private Mary tells Percy that Uncle Frank won't work again because his lungs are so bad from working in the colliery. Then uncle won't be needing his bicycle, will he? asks Percy. Mary smiles and reminds him that Frank bought that bicycle to replace the one that he (Percy) stole from him. Percy pretends that he is going to buy the bike with future money. Mary tells him to take the bike and they'll see him the next time he needs something. There is one condition, however, that Percy must fulfill. He has to go visit his mum.
Percy rides the bike over to his mother's place. He peeps his head around the door and his mum can feel the draft so she tells the person to come in. Percy comes in and pretends he's Dr. Walker and will give her a free medical examination. He asks her how she is and she says her eyes are almost all gone. She tells Percy that her son was in the war and he was a hero. But, he's dead now. She also remarks that she has nothing to live for, so she drinks a lot of gin. Percy leaves without ever identifying himself to his mother.
Percy uses the bike to get him to London. He rides with another war veteran and calls himself Lawrence. The guy says since he came back from the war, he hasn't been able to get a job. Percy says he's in love with a girl named Dorothy.
Dorothy sits alone in her empty house smoking and thinking. She has the monocle in her right hand. Maybe she is thinking Percy has left her because of her poor economic situation now.
Aunt Mary tells Percy's mum that it wasn't Dr. Walker who visited her. It was her son. Mrs. Toplis cries.
Percy listens to a speech by Charles Strange, who talks about the evil of the rich and how bad it is for the working man. In the front row is Edwin Woodhall undercover as a journalist. After the speech, Charles walks up the main aisle shaking hands. He spots Percy and is very glad to see him. Percy asks Charles for 10 minutes alone with him. One of his men tells Edwin that they have every exit covered. When Percy and Charles are alone Percy asks him for 100 English pounds. Why? Because Percy is in debt and in love. Charles realizes that he's being blackmailed. He is disappointed in Percy and says that all Percy had to do was ask for the money and he would have given it to him. Why didn't Perce just ask for the money? Percy responds: "Because life's not like that, Strange." Now Charles writes out a check for the money. Before Percy leaves, Charles slugs him in the face. When Percy recovers, he smiles and tells Charles: "You pacifists are all the same."
Percy is suddenly grabbed by two policemen. They look at his face and realize he is not Charles Strange. So they tell Percy to take a long, long walk. Going around to the front of the building, Percy figures out that it's Charles they are going to arrest. And arrest them they do when Charles comes out of the building.
Edwin tells Charles that he will have to disappear from the notice of the public, or else, they will force him to disappear. He asks him if he has seen Percy Toplis around? Charles says no.
In the mail Aunt Mary and Uncle Frank receive some money from Percy. Mary has a big smile on her face.
Dorothy throws her keys to the men with the job of taking her house from her. She starts walking down the road with two suitcases.
Edwin Woodhall is honored for his services by having a fancy dinner thrown for him. And now, it's on to get Percy Toplis.
Percy and Dorothy are together. Percy almost seems depressed and Dorothy tries to cheer him up. She calls him the mystery man and "Johnny" asks her not to ask him any questions because all he will give her in return are lies. So, Dorothy asks him what about the lies that she tells him? She's not the person she pretended she was. Despite all that, she tells Johnny firmly that she wants him to live with her. She adds: "Sometimes isn't enough any more. I want all the time." She wants to come clean with Johnny and tell her real story. Percy is not much interested. He says he used to not care and people couldn't hurt him, but now he does care and he doesn't know how to handle it. He says: "I feel like a dead man on leave." Now Johnny mentions that he is just 21 years of age. Dorothy is flabbergasted, since she is much older and thought that Johnny was older too. But she doesn't really care. She gives him lots of kisses.
Dorothy shows Johnny the poor neighborhood she grew up in. She indicates that it was she who pushed her husband, who had less money than she, down the stairs to his death. They admit to each other that they thought the other had money.
As they drive down the road, Percy senses that he's being drawn into a trap. He drops his head and apologizes to Dorothy. She realizes that it is not a trap. The men in front of him on the road are just deaf and dumb persons. The road men move over to the side and the suspicious car behind them goes around Percy's car. Percy is so relieved. And now he wants to tell Dorothy about himself.
Charles Strange walks over to a seaside cliff, takes a swig of whisky and throws himself onto the rocks below. The story is in the paper, but Percy can't believe that it was suicide. He thinks the police killed Charles. Now Percy tells Dorothy that it's really he himself that Edwin Woodhall wants to catch.
Dorothy and Johnny go out to Stonehenge. (Located in Wiltshire, a county in southwest England.) Johnny says he is going back into the army. Dorothy thinks she's pregnant.
Bulford Camp, Wiltshire, January 1920. A couple of army fellows recognize Percy Toplis as he shines his boots. He goes to a place to buy a beer and a fellow gets up from a table and comes over to Percy. He says there's a guy that wants to meet him in private. Johnny tells him that he prefers public meetings and likes to drink his beer by himself.
Johnny returns to his barracks and there sits a fellow named Tommy Turner, who knows Percy from Etaples. He tells Percy that he runs this place and Percy can have anything he desires. He was a hero at Etaples. Johnny says the first thing he wants is to forget the name Percy. Johnny Walker sits down. He tells Tommy that he wants a good gun, a Webley VI (the standard issue service pistol used by the United Kingdom in WWI). And, furthermore, Johnny wants to earn a lot of money fast.
At night Tommy's lackey, Harry, brings the Webley VI into the barracks, awakens Johnny and gives him the pistol. Harry is not very smart. He tries to carry on a conversation with Johnny when everyone is trying to sleep. Some of the guys tell the two fellows to shut up and Johnny tells the lackey to get out.
Tommy is running a racket. He takes military petrol and sells it for a low price to taxi drivers, bus services, haulage firms, etc. He wants Johnny to use his considerable charms to get new customers for them. Tommy gives the use of a nice car to Johnny. He has Harry ride along with Johnny.
Johnny drives Dorothy out to see their future home. He sends in Dorothy so she can charm the house sellers. In fact, he wants her to use her royal style to tell the sellers that they want to rent with a view to buying the place.
Johnny deals with a taxi company man, Mr. Spencer, and he is not happy. He says the last three times they received the petrol, the military petrol came up short. Johnny now does charm the fellow by telling him that Spencer can trust him that when they receive 30 gallons, it will be 30 gallons.
Harry tells Johnny that Spencer wants to meet with them again. And Tommy wants Harry to accompany Johnny. Harry advises Johnny to take his Webley VI with him.
Dorothy comments on the good deal of money that Johnny keeps brining in. Johnny says he's working hard to create a better home for the three of them (after the arrival of the baby).
April 24, 1920. Johnny and Harry get into the car with Spencer. He complains: "You're making a bloody fortune out of me." He then says that Johnny could get five years if he is caught. Johnny mentions that Spencer has been re-selling the military gas at a higher price. Spencer gets mad and grabs Johnny by the collar to threaten him. Johnny agrees to Spencer's lower price and says pull over and pay them. When Spencer now demands an even lower price, Harry shoots him in the back of the head. He then starts crying like a baby. Johnny pulls the body out of the car and over into the bushes. He then scolds Harry for killing a man. Harry says that's what he thought Johnny wanted him to do. Johnny says in exasperation: not for a measly 90 English pounds and some change. He adds that he wishes he could kill Harry or Harry could kill him. Harry says he couldn't do that to Johnny, who remarks in turn: "You already have."
Back to the present. Johnny drives the taxi so fast that he stalls out the engine on a sharp curve. Harry gets out to use the bathroom and runs for his life. Johnny shoots at Harry but doesn't hit him.
When Johnny gets home he tells Dorothy about what happened. She starts to blame herself, because without her, he wouldn't have all this need for fast money. Johnny tells her not to say that. It isn't true. He says: "If I hadn't have met you, I'd have been dead all me life." He wouldn't have missed being with Dorothy for anything. She says she's coming with him, but Johnny says no, she is not coming. Johnny packs his suitcase, changes into civilian clothes, leaves the house and goes over to his car. He gets in the car, but Dorothy jumps in right beside him. He shouts for her to get out but she won't move. Then he calmly ells her to get out and get him one flower. She gets out and he drives away. Heading off, Johnny stops the car and throws his wallet out the window.
Harry goes to the police and says that Percy shot Mr. Spencer and then he tried to shoot him (Harry).
Edwin Woodhall gets a telephone call about Percy. He then comes over to the station to talk to Harry.
The police burst into Percy's mother's house searching for Percy or any signs of him.
Percy hops on a train. He receives help from some young men who know or know about Percy Toplis.
Banffshire, north central Scotland, June 1, 1920. Percy has gone into a not-used home and has started a fire in the chimney place. A hunter sees the smoke coming out from the chimney. It looks as if the fellow is going to call the police. Three men, at least one of them a policeman, come to the house with their shotguns. They use a key to open the front door and then charge over to the sofa where Percy is laying down asleep. Once at the sofa, however, the men soon realize that the possible burglar has fooled them. Percy just stuffed some odds and ends on the sofa and then covered them up with a blanket. Percy comes out behind the men and tells them not to turn around for he just doesn't care. The Scottish hunter swings around and Percy shoots him. The policeman now turns around and Percy shoots him too. The other guy doesn't move. Percy leaves the house.
In the morning Percy hitches a ride with a local.
Cumberland, Sunday June 6, 1920. (Cumberland was once an English county on the north west border with Scotland. It is now a part of Cumbria.) Percy comes to a house and asks the lady of the house if he could have a cup of tea. She calls for her husband and he comes to the window. Seeing the man, Percy takes off running. The man must be involved with the police, because he has a number of wanted posters in a drawer. He pulls them out and spots Percy Toplis. The fellow pursues Percy. For some reason he keeps yelling while he walks. All of a sudden, Percy jumps up in front of the fellow. The guy says he was just looking for his wife. Percy hits him on the head with the butt of his gun and the fellow goes down writhing in pain. When Percy leaves, the man says to himself that he's going after Toplis.
The fellow jumps on what looks like a moped and rides the local road in pursuit of Toplis. He passes right by a soldier walking along the road. The soldier is Percy Toplis, who has changed into his army uniform.
The police receive a tip, probably from the man on the moped, that Toplis is somewhere around Penrith. The police head for Penrith.
Two young girls come upon Percy taking off his clothes to take a bath in a stream. They laugh at him and then run away when he looks up and sees them.
The police will set up a road block at Alston, Cumbria county (located northeast of Penrith). Four guys in a car and a guy on a motorcycle will set up the roadblock. They pass right by Percy walking along the road. After awhile, the fellow in the passenger seat says that he thinks they just passed by their man. The car and motorcycle turn around. The fellow on the motorcycle passes by Percy and stops along the roadside and starts examining his cycle. And now Percy sees the car coming back. The car again passes by Percy, because the driver is a civilian of a commandeered car and he is afraid. The police put a gun up to the driver's head and he turns back around.
The car comes bearing down on Percy. Percy takes out his pistol and starts firing and so do the policemen. The guy on the motorcycle also shoots Percy.
Percy's body goes for an autopsy. Edwin Woodhall comes in and identifies the body at that of Percy Toplis. There are to be no journalists at the burial which is to happen quickly. They put a sign on the gate saying that the Toplis funeral is postponed till 1:00 p.m. because the coffin is not ready. Meanwhile, the police put the casket in Bartley's Lemonade truck and the body is taken to the church. The police tells the priest to speed his ceremony up, but the priest says he will present his standard ceremony. Only the priest and the police are there at the funeral.
Percy's aunt with Percy's mother put flowers on Percy Toplis's grave. As they leave the cemetery, Dorothy comes to pay her respects. There is no headstone for the grave.
Good series. That Percy Toplis was amazing. Who could pretend to be so many different people and actually get away with it? Probably a lot of us have known such a person or persons. He just never got flustered. Perhaps he had no real conscience, so he could do these things without showing nervousness or guilt. He was extremely smart and could quickly think on his feet to answer any questions from people suspicious of him. And he was a great spokesman for the anger of the abused soldiers. And he always seemed to come up with new ideas that were right and the best options at the time. Furthermore, the riot and strike could not have been victorious without Percy Toplis.
But, of course, this made Percy, a very wanted man by the authorities. And they would not give up looking for Percy. Percy manages to dodge them for a relatively long time, but he probably realized that in the end he would be caught. There is a nice love story between Percy and Dorothy in the film. Love changes Percy somewhat by making him actually care about what happens to him and others that he loves. He was not completely reformed, but he was a better man than before. Paul McGann (as Percy Toplis) did a very good job.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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