The Admirable Crichton
and Look Back in Anger
THERE IS NO doubt that British theatre has been very important to the development of British cinema, and — the input of television in general and Channel 4 in particular notwithstanding — it remains so, as a quick glance at the number of ﬁlm adaptations from stage plays from the 1980s and early 1990s testiﬁes. This is clearly the case in the 1950s, not least because a great many ﬁlms have their origins in the theatre. I estimate that of the 1,033 British ﬁlms of the 1950s listed in David Quinlan's British Sound Films, some 152 were based on stage plays. 1 However, the provision of source texts is not the only issue, and this ﬁgure should be set alongside the 330 ﬁlms in the decade that were based on novels and short stories, the 18 that came from radio and the 22 adapted from television. If theatre seems more important than other media to the cinema of the 1950s, then it is partly because there are deeper connections, and it is worth reminding ourselves of some of these.
The institutions of theatre and cinema were, by the 1950s, bound to each other. Many of the dominant personnel of the cinema — actors, directors, technicians and writers — had backgrounds in the theatre. Even such luminaries of the period as Kenneth More and Dirk Bogarde began as stage actors. (More began in variety before moving into ﬁlms via the legitimate theatre and Bogarde worked in both provincial repertory theatre as well as the West End before becoming a screen actor.) However, it was not a relationship between equals. Theatre occupied a higher cultural status than ﬁlm, lending it a credibility and legitimacy that was needed by a medium conscious of its inferior status. This was particularly apparent in the attitude of many stage actors towards their screen work (the physical proximity of____________________