Unnatural Causes: Home Cooking

Home Cooking is an episode of the 1980s anthology series Unnatural Causes about unusual deaths, or rather manners of death, written by all big names (this one was written by screenwriter Paula Milne) under the guidance of Beryl Bainbridge. I see that when I first wrote about another episode, Lost Property, as an orphaned episode, I thought it peculiar that a series written by such great authors should have vanished off the radar. I'm delighted to say that I have since discovered some other episodes online, and still think this show's disappearance off the cult Tv radar strange. I have recently seen the episodes Hidden Talents (which I'm going to watch again and see what I think because I wasn't impressed but also wasn't concentrating on it) and Home Cooking, both of which are currently on YouTube for the watching. Home Cooking is an absolute BANGER and I knew it was going to appear here as soon as it got into its stride.

You will read online that this is about Judith (played by Prunella Scales), who runs a small hotel with her brutal husband Vic (played by Brian Cox) and who begins to suspect that her husband is the brutal sexual deviant who keeps killing women locally. I can't think why every source says that because that is not what the show is about at all, and in description terms is like describing the house an event took place in without describing the event.

What this play is really about is violence, power, aspirations, expectations and the way we humans can feel terribly cornered and limited. The hotel is the setting and context of lots of events dealing with these issues. It is an excellent one because it means that we get to see things like a group of men watching a porn film in the lounge of the hotel, or throwing darts into a pin-up of a nude woman on the dart board, and we see a young family turning away because they therefore perceive the hotel to be dirty.

Judith does the cooking for the hotel and this depiction of wholesomeness is contrasted with, well, pretty well everything around her. The hotel features a newly-built sauna in the cellar which is a counterpoint of continental risky sleaziness involving nudity to Judith's cleanliness and reliability.

Except the show turns this round on its head and we not only see Judith and a hotel guest, in a sex scene, but we see Judith and Vic have a fight in the kitchen. This is just wonderful, and given that it stars Prunella Scales I kept visualising Sybil and Basil Fawlty actually moving on from their seething resentment and actually having a fight in the kitchen, which would of course be quite something.

This is absolutely not a criticism, but there is one thing which is utterly bizarre and chilling in this show, and I think it's deliberate. We endlessly see Judith doing the preparation for cooking, endless chopping, cutting, slicing, and we see some prepared food, but at no point do we see her doing any actual cooking. The only exception is when she microwaves something for her husband which he refuses because it's been microwaved. This preference for stabby cutting actions over actual cooking is quite something in a show featuring suspicion about a violent rapist, and I'm not going to say anything more about what it suggests because I'm not going to spoil this one for you.

There is one very brief but remarkable appearance here, because I wasn't conscious of having seen him in any other show but recognised him at once, but there is a scene where a young family briefly pops into the hotel before changing their mind and leaving. The dad is played by none other than Tom Kelly, who played the main resentful ghost in the Sapphire and Steel adventure about the station which I have also been re-watching, and I recognised him at once. This prompted me to look him up on IMDB and have found he made several appearances on Doctor Who and other shows, which I didn't know about.

This is a remarkably sure-footed show which sets up the viewer to expect one of a couple of things and then gives us something quite different. Also the unusual manner of death really is unusual. My only criticism is that after the first death in the show, by an unusual means, there is no apparent question of how this could have happened, which is very odd. However I otherwise can't recommend this show highly enough, because it's excellent and it really sets you up and kicks you in the teeth.

In addition to the episodes I've named here there is another one, called Window, Sir?, but not called that on its YouTube page, here.

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