It is wartime in England. A visiting troupe of actors is to give a performance of "King Lear" in a town in the provinces but the director and leading actor is mentally at the end of his tether. His Dresser wants the show to go on at all costs while the Stage Manager is much more reticent...I had never much appreciated Finney before but this performance in a play by Sir Donald Wolfit's former dresser suits him perfectly: it is an outstanding impersonation of the often grandiloquent, pompous and hammy Wolfit, who was also, at his best, a great actor, despite his rather awful troupe.
Finney and Courtenay (an actor I have always liked), in the role of the actor's dresser, strike sparks off one another and the result is deeply moving, a sort of meditation on the failures and rewards of a lifetime's devotion to the theatre as death approaches.
The wartime atmosphere and the theatres of "Old England" are beautifully caught and the courage and tenacity of the characters in the theatre is a paradigm of the general mood in Britain at that time. It is also fascinating to observe the tensions behind the scenes between members of the troupe over whether or not the show will go on. I should add that this is a work of fiction and not a biography: Sir Donald Wolfit did not die until twenty years after the war and was in full control of his faculties to the end. I bought this for a friend - now I'm wishing I had bought it for myself!
P.S. Four years later, I did indeed buy a second copy of this DVD - for myself this time.