‘The Tenth Man‘ (1988) is one of our top 10 Anthony Hopkins movies. Made as a TV movie, adapted from a novel by Graham Greene, although Greene originally wrote it as a movie script back in the 1940’s when he was engaged by the movie studios MGM. The script lay forgotten for over 40 years until the novel was published.
Set in Nazi occupied Paris in the 1940’s, this drama/thriller movie captures the era most authentically, has a well defined clever plot and a surprising ending.
Anthony Hopkins plays the wealthy french lawyer, Jean Louis Chavel who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, when Nazi soldiers were randomly rounding up people to throw in prison, in retalliation for the French Restistance’s killing of certain German military personnel. The Germans told the prisoners that one in every ten of them would be executed, Chavel was arrested along with some 28 others. The prisoners were left to decide amongst themselves which 3 would die. The men drew lots, if the piece of paper drawn had a cross on it, you were to be killed. Cheval was one of the unlucky 3.
Cowardly Cheval was horrified and could not face death and so offered money to any of the other prisoners who would change places with him but he had no takers. Finally in desparation he said “I’ll give you everything I’ve got, money, land, everything …”
Amongst the prisoners is a poor, sickly man, Michel Mangeot, (Timothy Watson) who, upon hearing the extent of Chavel’s wealth, agrees to trade places in order that his mother and sister may inherit the money and land, after his execution. Cheval hurriedly did the legal paperwork for his part of the bargain, transferring the ownership of his country mansion house, land and money and also the will for Mangeot to benefit his own family. Mangeot was put in front of the firing squad and shot dead.
After the war Cheval is liberated from prison, albeit penniless and with no job. He finds a gold ring which he pawns and makes his way back to his former mansion which although still standing, is unkempt. When Cheval finds the house is
occupied by Therese Mangeot (Kristin Scott Thomas), the sister of the man who died in Cheval’s place, he dreams up a story, a new name and manages to secure a position as a gardener in his former home. Cheval however, tells Therese that he was in prison with her brother and so gains her trust. Therese makes it clear to Charlot (Chavel’s new name) that she would rather have had her brother alive and be poor than her brother sacrifice his life – she holds the man Cheval responsible for the death of her brother and awaits his return to get her revenge. Therese tells Charlot that he must look out for Cheval, as she is convinced he will return to the area.
Anthony Hopkins is convincing as Cheval, even though he speaks without a French accent, (you don’t seem to notice this at all). Hopkins portrays the worried, guilty, remorseful Cheval/Charlot in this impossible situation with the usual carefully studied mannerisms that you can expect in all movies with Anthony Hopkins.
The plot twists that ensue are a delight and the ending that gives Cheval the redemption he sought is tragic.