As the final series reaches its halfway point, it is Marion who becomes the focus of the narrative as we witness her initially joyful reunion with husband Clifford, but also her subsequent dismay at his lack of understanding of her needs and what she has endured. The tensions between the married couple are played out sensitively and believably by Ann Bell and Jonathan Newth as Marion almost immediately finds herself trapped in a life that she did not want before the war and is even less able to suffer now it is over. Clifford’s return also causes emotions to run high amongst the other women as his new war crimes role prompts the first debates over Yamauchi’s guilt, a matter on which the women can never hope to agree. Elsewhere, Beatrice’s hopes that she will resume her pre-war job are horribly dashed and, as the doctor reacts to the news, Stephanie Cole once again threatens to steal the show with her performance.
Looked at in its entirety, Tenko is arguably Marion Jefferson’s story more than it is that of any other character. The first series began with her frustration with a superficial existence in the polite society of pre-war Singapore and the subsequent gradual realisation of a very real and rewarding purpose in the unlikely surroundings of a Japanese prison camp. Although a few episodes in the second series saw her take an occasional back seat, with the notable exception of Beatrice, Marion’s experiences and reactions have been explored in the most detail, and arguably with the most care, throughout. It is only right then that her long-sought reunion with Clifford and her uneasy resumption of the role of army wife and the attendant complex emotions become almost the sole focus of this particular episode.
The scene in which Marion first sets eyes on Clifford again is skilfully played. Although each is desperate to be reunited, the time that they have spent apart initially freezes them at a distance from each other, as each wonders what has happened to the other in the intervening years. They are, in effect, strangers. When they do come together there is no question that each loves the other. Marion incessantly repeats ‘Thank God’, scarcely believing that her prayers have been answered, while Clifford wants to hold and protect her in his arms. Through this embrace Marion finally lets down her guard – the resilience and strength of character that ensured her survival in the camps. The revelation that Clifford has been in England for most of the war and, what is more, with Ben as he made his transition into adulthood, is particularly difficult for Marion to take and who can blame her? However, the first signs that their adjustment to each other is going to be difficult only show when Clifford starts to quiz her about her time in camp (‘Don’t let’s talk about that’) and he misunderstands her comment about sleeping alone. To her, the idea of their forthcoming night together is not so much sleeping together as sleeping apart from the other women. Clifford does not yet understand his wife’s deep connection with the women with whom she was interned, but this remark should give him a serious clue. Fittingly, Marion is not alone in this consideration as Beatrice also feels compelled to mention that it will be ‘funny without Marion tonight.’
That night, apart from the obvious problem that Clifford is unable to ‘perform’, there is further indication that there is trouble ahead as Marion fails to communicate her concerns about leaving Raffles and therefore her friends behind so soon. Typically for Tenko this isn’t explicitly spelt out (as it might be in a less sophisticated drama) and instead is merely implied by Marion’s unfinished sentences as it clearly dawns on her what being reunited with Clifford means: separation from the others, a circumstance she has not begun to prepare herself for.
There is worse to come as Marion leaves with Clifford the next morning. His racist comment about Christina and Simon Treves: ‘Seldom works, whites and wongs and all that,’ literally stops Marion in her tracks as she looks after him as if she’s not sure she knows him anymore. The contrast between the pair as they are chauffeured home is similarly disconcerting…
This is an excerpt from Andy Priestner’s acclaimed book Remembering Tenko in which this episode is reviewed in full. The book also explores and details how the series was made and boasts hundreds of behind-the-scenes photographs. You can purchase Remembering Tenko on Amazon.