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The Terence Rattigan Collection [DVD]
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In his centenary year, the genius of playwright Terence Rattigan is at last being recognised and The Terence Rattigan Collection is an invaluable compendium of his finest work, performed by some outstanding casts.
Rattigan had a profound understanding of the human heart in all its complexity. He is the master of an emotional restraint which gives his work its unforgettable power and attracts, in this collection, star actors of the calibre of Sean Connery and Colin Firth, Penelope Wilton and Judi Dench, Ian Holm and Michael Gambon, Eric Porter and Geraldine McEwan. Among the plays included on this DVD are The Deep Blue Sea in which Hester Collyer sacrifices everything for a younger man who cannot return her love and The Browning Version in which a schoolmaster's emotional shell is cracked by an unexpected act of kindness.
In The Terence Rattigan Collection, great acting and great story-telling combine to make compulsive viewing.
Heart to Heart (The Largest Theatre in The World)
The first in the “Largest Theatre in the World” series of plays, Heart to Heart centres around a TV interviewer determined to get a coup on a dodgy cabinet minister. Starring Kenneth More, Ralph Richardson, Derek Francis. Directed by Alvin Rakoff
Originally broadcast December 6, 1962.
Approx. 115 minutes
All On Her Own (A Touch of Venus)
Rosemary returns from a party to the empty Hampstead house where she has lived since the death of her husband, but was his overdose of sleeping pills purely accidental? She is going to try to find out.
Starring Margaret Leighton, Nora Gordon
Directed by Hal Burton
Originally broadcast September 25, 1968.
Approx. 19 minutes
NB: A series of 13 monologues for famous actresses.
BBC archive only shows All On Her Own
Separate Tables (BBC Play of the Month)
Loneliness, desire and repression are explored in the setting of a Bournemouth Hotel.
Starring Geraldine McEwan, Eric Porter, Annette Crosbie, Robert Harris, Hazel Hughes, Pauline Jameson, Cathleen Nesbitt
Originally broadcast March 15, 1970.
Approx. 93 minutes
French Without Tears (BBC Play of the Month)
The comic, sometimes painful, fallings-out of five young male English students at a residential language cramming establishment in France.
Starring Nicola Pagett, Michael Gambon, Anthony Andrews, Barbara Kellermann, Nigel Havers, Tom Woodward
Originally broadcast May 16, 1976.
Approx. 94 minutes
The Winslow Boy (BBC Play of the Month)
The term at Osborne Naval College is not yet over. Why, therefore, has cadet Ronnie Winslow returned home? And why, moreover, is he hiding in the garden in the rain?
Starring Alan Badel, Eric Porter
Directed by David Giles
Originally broadcast January 16, 1977.
Approx. 112 minutes
The Browning Version
Andrew Crocker-Harris is an aging classics master at a British public school with only a few days left in his career but who is suddenly forced to confront his own life’s failures.
Starring Judi Dench, Michael Kitchen, John Woodvine, Ian Holm
Directed by Michael A. Simpson
Originally broadcast December 31, 1985.
Approx. 74 minutes
After The Dance (Performance)
Set in the Mayfair Flat of a high living, hard drinking writer in 1938 this truthful play attacks the moral vacuity of the ‘bright young things’ unknowingly poised on the brink of war.
Starring Anton Rogers, Gemma Jones, Imogen Stubbs
Directed by Stuart Burge
Originally broadcast December 5, 1992.
Approx. 112 minutes
The Deep Blue Sea (Performance)
Middle-aged Hester Collyer suffers the dramatic personal consequences of a passionate affair with a young, ex-RAF pilot named Freddie Page.
Starring Colin Firth, Ian Holm, Carmel McSharry, Wojtek Pszoniak, Stephen Tomkinson, Edward Tudor-Pole, Penelope Wilton
Directed by Karel Reisz
Originally broadcast November 12, 1994.
Approx. 99 minutes
Adventure Story (BBC Sunday Night Theatre)
Rattigan’s own dramatic study of Alexander the Great. Starring Sean Connery, Margaretta Scott
Directed by Karel Reisz
Originally broadcast June 12, 1961.
Approx. 110 minutes
- Separate Tables at The Apollo: John Mills and Jill Bennett in a scene from Act 2 of Separate Tables at the Apollo Theatre.
- Cause Célèbre at Her Majesty’s Theatre: Two extracts from Terence Rattigan's play Cause Célèbre, starring Glynis John, Neil Daglish, Charles Dore, Philip Bowen and Lee Montague. This was shot during a theatre preview at Her Majesty’s Theatre.
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The cast lists are like the Who's Who of British film and theatre. The standard of acting is outstanding and several of the performances left me feeling deeply moved. Eric Porter stands out for me playing two very different parts in Separate Tables and as the father in The Winslow Boy. There's a short clip from a stage version of Separate Tables with John Mills in the same role as Eric Porter in the TV production and it's interesting to compare the different styles of performance. Penelope Wilton is heart-breaking as the wife in The Deep Blue Sea and Ian Holm is perfect as the buttoned-up school teacher in The Browning Version: stiff and formal, but one for whom one feels great sympathy.
The only play that I didn't think much of is Adventure Story Rattigan's play about Alexander the Great. I found the dialogue clunky and I'm sorry to say I couldn't take Sean Connery seriously as Alexander. He looked good but somehow his characteristic Scottish accent didn't chime with the part (as a Scot I'm not being xenophobic!). He played the part before he became Bond but I kept expecting him to say "The name's Bond, James Bond"!
French without Tears is the only light-hearted play in the set and even it has darker undertones of friction and disappointment in human relationships.
If you enjoy plays and the theatre then I'm sure you'll treasure this collection. I can also recommend a similar set of DVDs of plays by Noel Coward recorded by the BBC Noel Coward Collection [DVD] as, I suspect, TV won't return to the days when plays were regular features of the schedule.
HEART TO HEART and ALL ON HER OWN were commissions, the latter a monologue for Rattigan's favourite actress Margaret Leighton, and demonstrate the esteem in which the single drama was once held.
ADVENTURE STORY appears to have been taped from a live performance, so the acting is somewhat stagy, but after a fashion that suits the material: Sean Connery as Alexander the Great, what more need be said?
In SEPARATE TABLES Eric Porter and Geraldine McEwan splendidly follow the tradition of adopting dual roles with excellent support from Pauline Jameson, Cathleen Nesbitt and Annette Crosbie.
FRENCH WITHOUT TEARS is beautifully played by a fine cast, but suffers rather in that it is a piece which needs a live audience.
Alan Badel's low-key interpretation of Sir Robert Morton in THE WINSLOW BOY lends it a rather strange atmosphere, some dynamic is lacking, but Eric Porter is most effective as Arthur Winslow.
AFTER THE DANCE authentically captures the demimondaines of the inter-war period, and is only slightly marred by the camera exposing the leading players as a tad too old for their parts.
The surprises, not altogether pleasant, begin with THE BROWNING VERSION. The essence of Mr Crocker-Harris eludes Ian Holm, and as his wife Judi Dench seems to have thought she was in an episode of MARPLE, playing the eventual murder victim, so egregiously unpleasant that she deserves what she gets.A rare but telling off-day for everyone's best-loved Dame.
Karel Reisz's take on THE DEEP BLUE SEA has the actors improvising around the original text, which destroys any nuance of class distinction and sensibility, and allows too much histrionic abandon;the penultimate scene loses its effect by being insensitively cut, spoiling the impact of the final moments, and it all goes to prove the disadvantage of being a deceased author when your play is being revived.
However, the value of this selection is its preservation of outstanding performances of first class writing.
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