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Ladder of Swords is an independent film written by Neil Clarke and Norman Hull in 1990 starring Martin Shaw and Juliet Stevenson.

Don DeMarco, Denise and Daley (the dancing bear) are ‘The Three D’s’, a circus act, who are stranded in the moors of England waiting for a phone call for their next engagement, a tour around Europe with a performing troop. For Don (Martin Shaw) this call means everything, as he’s on the run from the law and joining the troop will allow him to escape from the shadow of his crime. However while the isolated location is heaven to him, his borderline abusive, alcoholic wife Denise (Eleanor David) hates it. After exposing herself to obsessive DI Atherton (Bob Peck) and bringing suspicion on herself and her husband, she abandons Don during a fight.

When Denise fails to return, Don starts a kindling relationship with local widow, Alice Howard (Juliet Stevenson), and when the call comes, the duo leave for the coast. However Atherton follows them, blaming Don for several petty crimes and is convinced that he murdered his wife. Then Denise returns and things get even messier.

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Ladder of Swords contains examples of:

  • A Boy and His X: To be more accurate, A Man And His Bear. Don is obviously happier teaching Daley than he is being with his wife. Poor Daley dies about halfway through.
  • Clear My Name: Subverted by Don not attempting to get off his crime (armed robbery), but Played Straight by him trying to convince Atherton that he didn't murder his wife.
  • Domestic Abuse: In one scene Denise gets drunk and hits Don before locking him out of the caravan. He spends the night with the bear and it’s implied that this has happened before.
  • Heroic BSoD: It's never stated but Don obviously goes into shock after Denise is killed.
  • Inspector Javert: Detective Inspector Atherton. He could almost put the Trope Namer to shame.
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  • Reformed, but Rejected: Atherton doesn't believe that DeMarco has changed. The fact that Don is a circus performer and Irish traveller may have something to do with this.
  • Romancing the Widow: Don and Alice get very close.
  • Wild Hair: Don DeMarco, he’s got the hair and the beard. Until Alice shaves it.
  • Win Her a Prize: Don wins a blue fluffy teddy bear for Alice.

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