Faithful adaptation of Terence Rattigan's wonderful play
Despite being written in 1952, Terence Rattigan's play is no old war horse. Like Brief Encounter, it perfectly depicts a time now lost forever, and yet, still manages to be modern.
Hester (Penelope Wilton) is a late thirty-something beauty, who escaped from a respectable suffocating marriage and is now stuck in a suffocating affair with Freddie Page (Colin Firth), a boyish ex-pilot with a drink problem. Despite her knowledge that Freddie no longer wants her, Hester would rather be unhappy than lose him. A failed suicide attempt calls her estranged husband Judge Collyer (Ian Holm) back. Contained in the shabby flat Hester lives in with Freddie, over these next hours, we see Hester conflicted by the two men in her life.
This is a filmed version of the play made for the BBC, and so it looks like a play rather than a film. This works in its favour, as opening out the play makes it lose its claustrophobia.
Wilton is a little too old for her role and not the beauty that Rattigan describes. Rachel Weisz in the 2011 film adaptation is too beautiful- it is Vivien Leigh in the 1955 film adaptation that resembles Hester the most, although her interpretation is a little cold. This may seem like a shallow comment but we are expected to believe that young sexy Freddie would want to have an affair with her.
Colin Firth is the standout as Freddie. This may be because I'm rather fond of Firth but I'm sure an objective viewer would agree. He has the boyish good-looks and it is perfectly clear why Hester would shack up with him. Firth manages to make Freddie a self-absorbed little boy but also makes him sympathetic, which shows that Firth's acting ability had been long neglected by the critics.
Ian Holm is the stuffy Judge. He conveys the right amount of guilt, regret, and pathetic love, yet we know that Hester won't be happy with him. This is a tragic performance.
The supporting cast are mixed. Carmel McSharry is a standard Mrs Elton and Stephen Tomkinson, despite a distracting northern accent, does a good job with Phillip, the nosy neighbour who means well. The others are all forgettable- I have yet to see a good performance of Mr Miller, perhaps the hardest character of all to pull off.
I highly recommend this production but also urge you to see a stage version so you can understand the importance of the secondary characters.
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