Somewhere in the second half of The Bastard, the mini-series starts to wear you down and you just give in. The first half is set in 1772 Europe, first in France, then in England. Andrew Stevens is a French boy with a secret. His mom might just be Patricia Neal, inn keeper, but Stevens is actually heir to a great British title. He’s just a bastard for now. Soon, he’ll be a duke.
In other words, the first half of The Bastard is a bunch of weak accents (for the most part) and Southern California standing in for the French countryside, British estates, French estates, the British countryside, and London itself. Oddly, The Bastard isn’t a grandly budget mini-series. It’s got nice sets and some creative location shooting, but it’s far from opulent. Director Katzin probably wouldn’t know what to do with the extra money anyway.
It feels, especially in the first half, very much like a TV show you don’t really want to watch. Until about an hour into the movie, Stevens is just around to whine, get seduced, seduce, patronize, and get henpecked by Neal. Neal doesn’t even try a French accent. Stevens goes for it and fails, but for a second he gets some credit for the enthusiasm. Then the accent starts to slip and the credit goes away.
When they get to England, they meet Eleanor Parker and Mark Neely. Parker does a British accent, Neely doesn’t, which is good because Neely’s bad enough without a weak accent. Parker’s a nice cameo; Bastard has some good small parts. But if you’re around too long, The Bastard gets you. The script eventually gets Neal, who’s got a weak character in the first place, but Katzin’s direction, Guerdon Trueblood’s teleplay… Neal never gets a good moment.
Anyway. They go to London, they meet Donald Pleasence (who’s cute) and Tom Bosley. Bosley’s all in as Benjamin Franklin, down to the air baths–his enthusiasm, no one else’s, can defeat The Bastard. Shame he’s only got four scenes in three hours. Then they go to the colonies for the second half.
Oh, right, Stevens sleeps with Olivia Hussey too. She’s his half-brother’s fiancée who likes French boys. Stevens is supposed to be seventeen or eighteen at the start of The Bastard. He was twenty-three. He looks about twenty-eight with the tan. His young lothario thing is a weird script addition given it looks like a soap opera whenever Katzin does a seduction scene. Except maybe the first one.
Second half has William Shatner as Paul Revere. And it features a William Shatner enthusiastic horse backing riding sequence. It’s kind of awesome. Shatner’s not bad either. He’s extremely likable, which gets him over some of the bumps in the script. And he’s also not in it too much.
Ditto Buddy Ebsen as Stevens’s American mentor. Or Noah Beery Jr. Even Peter Bonerz leaves a good impression.
Strangely, William Daniels is a complete flop and he’s got a lot fewer scenes than anyone else.
The second half also brings Kim Cattrall as an actual love interest for Stevens. She doesn’t get seduced until they’ve had something like five scenes together, while the previous conquests fell at one and two, respectively. Cattrall’s kind of likable. She’s not good so much as she’s trying harder than anyone else. There are so many historical figures, the script is entirely caricature, Katzin’s not interested in the performances, seeing someone occasionally try. It helps.
But then The Bastard gets Cattrall too.
Stevens gets okay for a while, when it’s all the American Revolution flashcards. He doesn’t get good, but he gets okay. And then the script throws him a real curveball and the development–in Stevens’s performance, him, the script, probably not Katzin, come on–drags him under. It also drags The Bastard under, which is appropriate, since Stevens is the Bastard.
You know, Johnny Carson’s right. Sometimes, you do just like being able to say bastard.