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The Philanthropist (1975)

A philologist at a British university finds his small world coming apart just as catastrophic things seem to be happening in the big world outside.




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Complete credited cast:
Jacqueline Pearce ...
Colin Higgins ...
Amanda Knott ...


The original play by Christopher Hampton, was adapted into this made-for-TV movie and it offers witty dialogue in the midst of remarkable conflict among its privileged characters. Philip, his fiancée Celia (Helen Mirren), and their circle of friends talk various forms of love, playwriting and everything in between during the course of a dinner party. Despite the fact that seismic events are unfolding in the world around them, their conversation returns to the usual subjects. Strangely enough, news of the collapse of the government and its violent aftermath doesn't perturb anyone. Even though a hit list from an obscure organization targeting, twenty-five of the most eminent English writers, does elicit a slight reaction from their dinner guest, a well known novelist, who isn't sure whether to be 'relieved or insulted' not to find himself on the list. However, despite the reactions (or lack thereof) to outside events, the party is not without drama of its own. As the evening progresses,...

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Plot Keywords:

university | satire | professor | See All (3) »


Comedy | Drama


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Release Date:

29 October 1975 (UK)  »

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Technical Specs


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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


The original Broadway production of "The Philanthropist" by Christopher Hampton opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theater on March 15, 1971, ran for 64 performances and was nominated for the 1971 Tony Award for the Best Play. See more »

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User Reviews

A man of no convictions
12 March 2008 | by See all my reviews

The Philanthropist is Christopher Hampton's witty and incisive reversal of Moliere's Misanthropist. According to Hampton 'it occurred to me that in the climate of abrasive candour which characterised the late 1960's, Alceste would have been quite at home: whereas his opposite, a man concerned above all to cause no offence and be an unfailing source of sweetness and light, would very likely succeed only in raising heckles where-ever he went'.

Thus we have the impeccably mannered Ronald Pickup falling over himself to be pleasing and honest, and instead finding that honesty is taken as a subtle form of insult and that to be pleasing is to be unfashionable and rude.

This BBC adaptation, made in 1975, is superb and superbly cast. Pickup is a wonderfully self-absorbed philanthropist, reminding one of Humbert Humbert without the crime. James Bolam is perfectly cast as Don, ostensibly Pickup's friend, but finding how easy it is to dupe the innocent quite without design. Of all the actors only Helen Mirren fails to come to grips with her role, possibly because she is miscast, rather than misreading the part of Celia.

This great play is included as part of the Helen Mirren At The BBC DVD box-set. I do not really understand the fashion for releasing these plays as sets under the umbrella of an actor - much more useful would be a box-set of Christopher Hampton At The BBC. It's his play, Mirren just happens to be in it.

THE most essential play of the 60's and 70's. And shame on the BBC for leaving it unseen in the archives for 33 years.

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