British Cinema of the 1950s: A Celebration

By Ian MacKillop; Neil Sinyard | Go to book overview

Adaptable Terence Rattigan:
Separate Tables, separate
entities?

DOMINIC SHELLARD

TERENCE R ATTIGAN' S REPUTATION has essentially been that of a theatre writer, and a conservative one, who is supposed to have avoided the darker themes that invaded the British stage after (roughly) the arrival of Look Back in Anger in 1956. This view of Rattigan is by now surely on its way out. His relation to the theatre and the so-called New Wave is undoubtedly more complex. However, his track record as a screenwriter, sometimes but not always adapting his own plays, should not be forgotten. In 1939 we have French Without Tears, then Quiet Wedding (1940), The Day Will Dawn (1942), Uncensored (1942), English Without Tears (1944), Journey Together (1945), The Way to the Stars (1945), While the Sun Shines (1947), Brighton Rock (1947, from Greene's novel), Bond Street (1948), and then a wonderful version of his own play The Winslow Boy (1948). In the 1950s he wrote The Browning Version (1951), The Sound Barrier (1952), The Final Test (1953), then disappointingly The Man Who Loved Redheads (1954), but triumphantly another adaptation of his own play The Deep Blue Sea (1955). The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), starring Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier, who also directed, is often seen as the end of his film career. (It was an unsatisfactory, though intermittently charming, tardy revival of his Festival of Britain stage play that celebrated nation and the Oliviers — Vivien Leigh had the Monroe role — called The Sleeping Prince.) But actually his last film was much more distinguished: Separate Tables (1959), an American adaptation by Rattigan himself — but see below — of his own play (or rather two one- acters) of the same name. In it the work of the `West End dramatist' (the cliché view of Rattigan) was brought to the screen by director Delbert Mann

____________________
My interest in the 1950s was sparked by my father giving up smoking on the death from emphysema of Kenneth Tynan, his schoolboy hero, in 1980. I subsequently wrote a study of Harold Hobson (Harold Hobson: Witness and Judge, 1995) and a survey of post-war theatre (British Theatre Since the War, 1999), and I am working on a book about Tynan and theatre criticism for Yale University Press. I am Head of Drama in the Department of English Literature at Sheffield University. Dominic Shellard

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