Innocent Victim

  • 1989
  • 1 HR 30 MIN
  • R
  • Thriller

London-based novelist Benet Archdale (Helen Shaver) has just written a best-seller attacking traditional family structures. Not surprisingly, she lives alone with her young son, born out of wedlock. Benet's mother, Marsha (Lauren Bacall), visiting from the States, is mildly disapproving. But she's also a manic-depressive, prone to psychotic episodes. When...read more

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London-based novelist Benet Archdale (Helen Shaver) has just written a best-seller attacking traditional family structures. Not surprisingly, she lives alone with her young son, born out of wedlock. Benet's mother, Marsha (Lauren Bacall), visiting from the States, is mildly disapproving.

But she's also a manic-depressive, prone to psychotic episodes. When Benet's child perishes after a sudden illness, Marsha goes into town and snatches a boy of the same age as a replacement. Benet is horrified by her mother's action, and public furor over the missing child grows, but the novelist

doesn't want Marsha committed to an institution. Moreover, the kidnaped child has apparently been savagely beaten by his parents. While Marsha takes the next flight back to the US, Benet uses her writer's credentials to visit the boy's mother, Carol (Kate Hardie), a tawdry lounge singer with a

moody live-in lover, Barry (Paul McGann). Having grown fond of the boy, Benet can't imagine sending him back to this pair, but while she deliberates, events inexorably spin out of control. The police, the public, and even Carol believe Barry has murdered the boy. Meanwhile, Terrance (Peter Firth),

a greedy servant, learns that Benet has the missing boy, leading to a blackmail plot. In the end, Terrance, Carol, and Barry perish in a grim murder-suicide fiasco, and Benet keeps the boy, passing him off as her own son.

If a filmmaker with the sensibilities of Hitchcock or DePalma had handled INNOCENT VICTIM, it could have been a classic suspense film. Based on Ruth Rendell's novel The Tree of Hands, the film sets up a chillingly insoluble moral dilemma. But director Giles Foster, whose previous film was the

anti-establishment farce CONSUMING PASSIONS, barely touches on the issues of guilt and responsibility. Instead he presents the tale in a straightforward, oddly nonjudgmental fashion. Benet runs a gamut of emotions, from bereavement to murderous rage, and by the end of the film her indecision has

caused three deaths, yet her character undergoes little change. The final freeze-frame of Benet and "son" romping joyfully in a meadow carries none of the ironic weight it should have. Nevertheless the acting is expert, right down to little Barnaby Brown as the abused, kidnaped child. He evolves

from a quiet, withdrawn figure to a happy, chatty toddler under Benet's maternal care. Even Marsha's psychosis is soft-pedaled; it's a relief that legendary actress Bacall isn't typed as a raving loony as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were at the end of their careers. In the most overtly

villainous role, Firth chews the scenery as the classic English cad--all he lacks is a hooked nose and a black mustache to twirl. He's a bit much, but one wishes INNOCENT VICTIM had taken as many chances as Firth does with his performance--it might have made more compelling viewing. (Profanity,violence, adult situations, sexual situations, nudity.)

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  • Released: 1989
  • Rating: R
  • Review: London-based novelist Benet Archdale (Helen Shaver) has just written a best-seller attacking traditional family structures. Not surprisingly, she lives alone with her young son, born out of wedlock. Benet's mother, Marsha (Lauren Bacall), visiting from the… (more)

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