In Praise of Rattigan
This month the BFI commemorates the centenary of Terence Rattigan, one of Britain’s greatest dramatists. As the Southbank screens a selection of films written by Rattigan and movie adaptations of his finest plays, the Mediatheques present a retrospective of television adaptations of his work, many of which have not been shown since their first broadcast.
Terence Davies is currently working on his long overdue return (after over a decade) to fiction filmmaking with an adaptation of Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea, and in April we present Karel Reisz’s superb all-star production from 1994 starring Colin Firth, Penelope Wilton and Ian Holm, in which a divorced woman copes with the end of a passionate affair (the play’s sexual undertones are rumoured to correspond with the gay playwright’s own life). As Cause Célèbre, one of Rattigan’s least performed works, enjoys a rare run at the Old Vic, catch Helen Mirren’s tour-de-force portrayal in John Gorrie’s 1987 adaptation, in which a woman is accused of the murder of her husband, and vilified by the public for her adultery with an 18-year-old man.
Ian Holm and Judi Dench give superb performances as the ageing classics teacher and his cold, unfaithful wife in The Browning Version (1985), set at a barely disguised Harrow, Rattigan’s alma mater, while one of Rattigan’s rare comedies – the delightful farce Harlequinade – is brought to the screen with Denholm Elliott and Edith Evans, in one of her last roles. A rare playwright whose work can transcend its stage origins to make for superb TV drama, In Praise of Rattigan confirms the writer’s reputation as one of the last century’s greatest dramatists.