A 1988 made-for-TV movie, based on the novel The Tenth
Man by Graham Greene. Stars Anthony Hopkins,
Kristin Scott Thomas, and Derek Jacobi. With a cast like that
(though, as far as I know, Thomas was not well-known then (which
means I'd never heard of her)), I'm surprised it was made for TV.
Because of that, it is also not well known, which I find lamentable.
Warning: Spoilers ahead
The story is set up when a very well-to-do French lawyer, Jean-Louis
Chavel (Hopkins), is outside his office in occupied Paris during
World War II and is taken prisoner by the German army.
Wanting to execute some random civilians whenever the Resistance
wreaked havoc, they showed stereotypical Nazi efficiency by taking
hostages beforehand, so as to be prepared when the time came.
Chavel is kept on ice in a large cell containing thirty hostages.
Eventually the day comes when they are required to fulfill their
purpose. An officer appears, informs them that there was violence
during the night, and that three of them will be executed in the
morning. He leaves it to the group to choose. A terrible situation.
The oldest man there suggests that the oldest three should volunteer,
but that method is loudly rejected by one of the youngest. Shortly, it
is agreed that they should draw lots. (Again, the oldest man
volunteers -- he provides a letter, which he had been seen reading
earlier and which he had probably read hundreds of times, to be torn
into pieces and marked.) Chavel is one of the three unfortunates. He
immediately begins protesting that he hadn't agreed to the lottery in
the first place; then he asks for someone to take his position in
exchange for a great deal of money. This is derided by the group, but
a young man named Michel starts asking for details. He is sickly and
thinks he will not survive the incarceration, even if he is never chosen
for execution in the future, and takes Chavel's place in exchange for
all of Chavel's worldly possessions. Chavel writes a
the transfer, and then a will for the young man leaving all of his
newfound wealth to his mother and sister. The next day he is executed
along with the other two.
Eventually the war ends, and we see that Chavel has survived through
whatever later purges there may have been, and he is released,
penniless (francless) into the streets of Paris. After
wandering for an unspecified number of days or weeks, he is finally
seen to have returned to his home town, and at the gates of his
(formerly his) estate.
You knew that was coming, didn't you?
Michel's sister Therese (Kristin Scott Thomas -- gorgeous!) answers
the door when he knocks and takes him for a vagrant looking for food.
Over a country snack, he tells her that he was in prison with Michel,
but gives her a false name, Jean Peret. They talk about Chavel and the
deal he made, and her all-consuming hatred for him is made plain.
Finding that Peret has no plans for the future, she offers
him a job as a
handyman (the place had become run down, more than three years would
account for, I think) and he accepts.
There's certainly enough work to be done around here, she says
to him, but mainly what I'll be paying you for is to identify
Chavel when he comes. I'm certain that he will return here.
So, at least several weeks pass, the place is looking good again,
and Therese and Peret are -- surprise -- falling in love.
And then the doorbell rings, and a man announces himself as
Jean-Louis Chavel. Therese and Peret are bemused, for
obviously different reasons. She asks him, "Is this Chavel?", and
Peret finally stammers out an affirmation, which no doubt
surprises The Imposter. Therese spits in The Imposter's face, as
she had said that she would if he ever came, but then insists that
he can stay the night, refusing to turn him out in the downpour. The
next morning, she confesses to Peret that she is as
cowardly as the man she so despised, because she had been unable to
kill Chavel during the night, as she had also sworn she would do.
Later, in Chavel's old bedroom, which had remained unused, the two
men confront each other. The Imposter admits to being Bretón,
the son of a man that had been in the prison. He had heard the story of
Chavel and Michel, and, figuring that Chavel would never dare return,
had hatched a plan to take his place and gain the land and fortune,
thanks to a government decree that made it possible for wartime
property transfers to be rescinded.
But Peret soon discovers that Bretón is wanted for
murder. Bretón tries to get Peret to leave, saying
he would kill Therese and her mother if he revealed his true identity.
Peret is going to do so, but first writes Therese a letter
explaining who he really is, and affirming her ownership of the
estate. Leaving, he overhears Bretón and Therese talking; he
is saying that she has seen his worst, and thus can trust him now
(a bit of a non sequitur), and to forget about
Peret who was a liar and generally no good.
Now, Chavel shows himself and proclaims his true identity to Therese.
She doesn't believe him, but Chavel goads Bretón into shedding
his imposture, shooting him and then fleeing. Chavel lies dying in
Chavel: Is the hate all gone, Therese?
Therese: Yes, all gone.
Chavel: Good, that's good.