This post continues my discussion (with myself, mostly, but thanks as ever to Billy Smart) about next year’s BFI Southbank season of television productions of plays written between 1890 and the First World War. Programming ‘The Edwardians’, part 1 outlined many of the extant productions that might be considered, and I want here to narrow that down before we start an intensive period of viewing over the next month. In broad brush terms initially, it is surely essential that we have one play each by Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and Harley Granville Barker. John Galsworthy’s Strife, of which recordings of three productions exist, is also pretty much a shoe-in. That is four of our six slots already taken.
Arthur Wing Pinero, for all his popularity more than a century ago, feels rather out-classed in this company, although I am curious to see the 1962 BBC version of The Second Mrs Tanqueray. Directed by Dorothea Brooking, who was best-known for her adaptations for children’s television, this 75-minute production has Elizabeth Sellars as Paula Jarman, a woman with ‘a past’, and Peter Williams as the widower Aubrey Tanqueray. (Might I note here that I have long been looking for any information about what I believe to be a feature film of the play shot by director Dallas Bower in the late 1940s; if anyone knows anything about this, do please let me know.)
J.M. Barrie may have to be another playwright left on the bench. I am not a fan of The Little Minister, which was shot on location by director Cedric Messina in 1975. The 1976 ATV Peter Pan that I noted in the previous post is in fact a musical version with songs by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony. With a cast including Mia Farrow (as Peter) and Danny Kaye (Captain Hook), and narration by John Gielgud, I am sure that it has its pleasures but it is not a serious candidate for the season. (Produced for the American Hallmark Hall of Fame series, it can at present be found in its entirety on Youtube.) But before dismissing Barrie entirely I want to view the 1978 BBC Scotland production of What Every Woman Knows which was directed by Donald McWhinnie with Hannah Gordon and Cheryl Campbell.
J.M. Synge is so substantial a playwright and The Playboy of the Western World such a significant drama that there is a very strong case for its inclusion, especially since John Hurt and Sinéad Cusack lead the cast of the 1971 Stage 2 production for the BBC, which was directed by Alan Cooke.
Which perhaps leaves us with a choice of a play either from D.H. Lawrence or Stanley Houghton. In 1995 Katie Mitchell directed The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd for the BBC with Zoe Wanamaker, Stephan Dillane and Colin Firth, and this is definitely a production to view again for consideration. But then there is also the 1976 Granada production of Houghton’s Hindle Wakes with Laurence Olivier. And I have put in a request for a viewing copy of the much earlier The Younger Generation, also by Houghton, which was produced by Granada in 1959 under director John Knight with Donald Pickering, Prunella Scales and Dinsdale Landen in the cast.
So the season feels as if it is beginning to take shape, and now I need to enter a concentrated period of viewing and re-viewing, starting I think with the BBC DVD collection of Oscar Wilde productions. I will share my thoughts as I work through the recordings.