Did you assume Matthew and Vera were going to escape? That our young lovers would get their happy ending even in the middle of wartime? Well, you thought wrong!
The sixth and final episode of ITV’s The Singapore Grip brings the story to a close – and, suitably for a series adapted from JG Farrell’s satirical novel about the British Empire, it ends with the business-minded Blacketts getting away to safety, while Matthew Webb (Luke Treadaway) is taken as a prisoner-of-war and Vera Chiang (Elizabeth Tan) is left to fend for herself.
Here’s what happens to each of our characters, and how the story ends.
Does the novel end like the TV series?
Pretty much, yes! Events play out very similarly in the ITV series and in JG Farrell’s original novel, although it must be said that the TV show has lost some of the book’s bite.
One structural change, however, is that the novel is written entirely chronologically, while the TV series begins almost at the end of the story (with Matthew trying to find Vera so they can escape) and then loops back around again in one very long flashback, before catching up with itself.
Do Vera and Matthew get away?
No. In both the book and the TV series, Vera Chiang and Matthew Webb are just about to escape Singapore aboard a boat with a group of fleeing allied forces – but then a group of Australian soldiers emerge from the darkness and commandeer the boat for their own getaway mission. And when François Dupigny attempts to weigh anchor so that his friends can get away, the Australian corporal shoots him in the leg.
“Speechless with anger and frustration they made their way wearily back across the aerodrome in the darkness,” Farrell writes.
After their failed earlier attempts to get Vera evacuated from Singapore, Matthew and Vera are well aware that they have both missed their final chance to escape – and that this is particularly bad news for Vera as the Japanese close in on the city.
She cannot be found in Matthew’s company, or in his house at the Mayfair; she must try to ‘disappear’ and lie low. So the young lovers return to Vera’s old cubicle in the tenement building, where they say goodbye.
Shortly afterwards, the colony’s European civilians are rounded up by Japanese troops and marched on foot to be interned in Changi jaol. This includes Matthew, the Major, and Francois Dupigny.
Does Walter Blackett get away?
Yes. Rubber baron Walter Blackett (David Morrissey) escapes aboard the motor-yacht “Nigel” alongside his new business associate WJ Bowser-Barringdon, as well as the embalmed (and en-coffin’d) body of his old rival, Solomon Langfeld.
The other Blacketts, of course, have already left Singapore; Joan and her fiancé Nigel Langfeld managed to get on the ship to India (as seen in episode five), as did her brother Monty Blackett (hiding out in the car beneath the De Souza sisters as it was winched aboard). The Major’s ailing dog, The Human Condition, also made it onto the ship.
Mrs Blackett and young Kate had previously travelled to Australia, and Farrell actually ends the story – surprisingly – with a hypothetical description of a grown-up Kate many years later sitting at her breakfast table in Bayswater with her husband, who may or may not be the American Jim Ehrendorf (!!).
Will Vera and Matthew reunite?
“We’ll see each other again, won’t we?” asks Matthew, in both the TV series and the book. “Yes, one day, certainly,” responds Vera.
After that moment, we never directly see Vera again.
Farrell writes: “In the first weeks after his internment, news began to filter into Changi of mass executions of Chinese suspected of having helped the British… Many of the Chinese who were killed were towed out to sea in lighters and made to jump overboard, still bound together in twos and threes. Others were machine-gunned wholesale on the beaches. According to the rumours which reached the camp, in every part of Singapore where Chinese lived they were forced to leave their houses at dawn and paraded in front of hooded informers…. what chance would Vera have?”
But then! One day, during his second year of internment, a Chinese man slips him a small parcel that reignites his hope, and lets him know that Vera is still alive and thinking of him: “It was a cigarette packet wrapped in a handkerchief. When he opened it he put his head in his hands: it contained a lump of sugar and two cooked white mice.
“And he thought: ‘Well, who knows? At least there’s a chance. Perhaps she’ll survive after all, and so will I.'”
So do Vera and Matthew reunite at the end of the war? The story doesn’t tell us; it’s up for you to decide…