(2010) "Every human being is a collection of selves ... we never stay just one person." On PBS's Masterpiece Classics, a three-part TV mini-series, adapted to the screen by William Boyd from his own novel, directed by Michael Samuels, follows the itinerant life and loves of Logan Mountstuart (1906-1991) - a novelist, journalist, spy, and businessman; a lover, husband (thrice married), and father - throughout the greater part of the 20th century.
Four actors portray the different stages of his life: Connor Nealon as a child, Sam Claflin as a college student and young man, Matthew Macfayden as a maturing adult, and Jim Broadbent as an elderly gentleman, sorting through his journals, papers, and photographs, reminiscing of the past - discovering a secret from letters and items long hidden in boxes sealed up during the war.
The son of a middleclass English father and Ecuadorian mother, following his dad's death Logan breaks his promise to remain in the meat business. As a college student, Logan aspires to become a writer while competing with his two friends to be the first to lose his virginity.
He has an affair with his friend Peter Scabius's commoner girlfriend Tess (Holliday Grainger) before she (pregnant) marries Peter; Logan falls in love with Land Fothergill (Charity Wakefield), a committed socialist interested in his intellectual capabilities; in reaction to Land's rebuffing his marriage proposal, he marries Lottie (Emerald Fennell), daughter of an earl; he falls in love with Freya (Halley Atwell), whom he marries after she becomes pregnant and his divorce from Lottie, leaving her with his son Lionel.
On his travels Logan meets fellow author Ernest Hemingway (Julian Ovenden) in Paris, Ian Fleming, the Prince of Wales (Tom Hollander) with his mistress Wallis Simpson (Gillian Anderson) on a golf course. (Comments by various characters about the couple and King Edward VIII's abdication brought to mind scenes from The King's Speech.) Hired by an American newspaper as a war correspondent to cover the fighting, Logan goes to Spain during the Spanish Civil War.
At the outset of World War II he becomes a lieutenant in naval intelligence (thanks to Fleming's recommendation) from which he's assigned to Lisbon to protect the Duke ("vain little man who cheats and never says thank you") and Duchess ("We are not without influence") of Windsor from Nazi kidnapping by playing golf with the Duke. Later he's sent back to be with the couple in the Bahamas to keep an eye on their activities, but when he refuses to participate in framing an innocent man for a murder, he's abruptly dismissed from the Duke and Duchess's presence.
Soon after parachuting into Switzerland as a spy, he's promptly captured (suspecting he's been betrayed) and incarcerated for over a year. The war having ended while he'd been in prison, he returns home to another tragedy; relocating to New York City, he becomes a successful art dealer and marries a widow with a daughter.
By 1955, having attempted suicide, he's drinking heavily and seeing a psychiatrist ("What drew you into this marriage?"), who says that most people not suffering mental disease are conflicted over money or sex or both. Returning to London when his mother dies, Logan enters into an affair with Peter's new wife Gloria (Kim Cattrall), possibly as revenge for his friend's success as a novelist.
On television he learns of Hemingway's suicide; he demands a divorce from the "calculating manipulative bitch"; his son Lionel, calling himself Leo, shows up, suffers a drug overdose, and dies. Waking up one morning, Logan discovers he's poor and dependent on Ben's largesse.
When Gloria returns, he asks: "Will you be staying long?" She, suffering from cancer, replies: "How long does it take to die, darling?" After inheriting property in the south of France, he's struck while walking across the street by a van and lies for two weeks in a coma in hospital. Recovering from his injuries, he learns of Ben's death from cancer and informs a clergyman that he's a "devout atheist."
Needing income he becomes involved with the Socialist Patients' Collective (SPK), selling the anarchist organization's rag (proclaiming Marxist paradise through violence) and making a trip abroad as a courier. "I no longer recognize the world I'm living in," he says as he surveys the politics and people around him in London; he moves to France.
Suffering a minor heart attack while with a woman, he wonders: "Is this the end of my sexual life?" A new neighbor, Gabrielle, a rich Parisian divorcee, who reminds him of Freya, seems to offer him "new good luck" as a friend; he helps her find out who's been defacing a plaque she's had set in her exterior wall as tribute to her deceased father, reputedly a French resistance fighter, only to discover she's been badly informed of her father's wartime allegiance. His last friend from college, Peter, dies. "It's just luck in the end - that's all there is."
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