The thing about making a particular film brilliant or unbrilliant, memorable or unmemorable, is availability. There were over 20 other entries in the 1976 series of Play For Today, but Bar Mitzvah Boy is probably the only one which has remained in print and, therefore, in memory. The success of the play was almost unparalleled for a BBC film
it played repeatedly on US television throughout the 70's and 80's,
there was talk of a feature film, even a musical. Bar Mitzvah Boy isn't substantially better than any other Play For Today I've seen. In fact, it's one of the poorer episodes of the 80 or so I've been lucky enough to find. So why did it make such an impact? First, it is a cultural product - a young Jewish boy's rite of passage. Not being Jewish, I can't share the cultural experience, but I can compare it, say, to a First Communion for a Catholic child and empathise. Second, that empathy is key to the writing, and it is the late great Jack Rosenthal who delivers a script which transcends the Jewishness of the occasion, making it widely accessible to everyone. It is through the family's petty preparations and squabbles over the head of the boy that he achieves this empathy.
My gripe about Bar Mitzvah Boy is that it is one of those esteemed successes which unfairly eclipse their contemporaries. For that reason it needs to be treated with caution - too much praise can be a bad thing. This is not the fault of writer Jack Rosenthal, or director Michael Tuchner, or the cast, all of whom do a sterling job - it's because of the BBC's absurd closed archive that we have no yardstick against which to judge the quality of Bar Mitzvah Boy. The preceding play, House Of Bernada Alba, and the following, Bet Your Life, remain as mysterious to me as any Bar Mitzvah.
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