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(TV Series)

(1994)

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  • Cast member Bruce Alexander recalled: "'Message for Posterity' was remade as a tribute to [Dennis Potter] just after his death the original recording of the early 60's having been lost by the BBC. As a result we under the direction of David Jones reproduced the original script with painstaking (perhaps over-scrupulous) accuracy, honouring every comma and letter in a way for which television is not renowned. The play was intriguing as a result but in style smacked of an earlier era of televised drama with long scenes and a quasi-theatrical interest in the spoken word rather than action. It was all quite a bit different from the later more overtly iconoclastic Potter." Since the original 1967 BBC "Wednesday Play" production of PotterÕs "Message for Posterity" became a lost work, it survives only as a script. The BBC2 revival (for the "Performance" series of plays by major dramatists), featuring an introduction by Brian Walden (father of cast member Ben Walden), aired 29 October 1994, four-and-a-half months after Potter's death, with the American television premiere four years later (March-April 1998) on Ovation, the Arts Network. Potter was inspired by an incident in the life of Sir Winston Churchill, whose portrait was commissioned by the House of Lords and the House of Commons on the occasion of Churchill's 80th birthday. When it was presented to him at a 30 November 1954 Westminster Hall ceremony, Churchill remarked, "The portrait is a remarkable example of modern art. It certainly combines force and candour." In truth, Churchill hated the finished painting by Graham Sutherland (1903-1980), claiming "it makes me look half-witted," and it was never exhibited in public. A year later, Mrs. Churchill had the painting destroyed. Potter used this situation as a springboard for a drama symbolizing the power of the British Establishment to crush any challenge to its authority. In Potter's play, political radical James Player is commissioned by the House of Commons to paint Conservative statesman Sir David Browning. When the left-wing Player, who despises all that Browning represents, arrives at the former Prime Minister's country estate, the two have a confrontational clash of values and politics. Player intends to depict "the grotesque evil of power," so the portrait will serve as revenge for Browning's actions during the 1926 General Strike. Unable to forgive Browning for breaking up a miners' meeting by sending troops into "some common ground in the middle of the Forest of Dean," Player views his canvas as "a final judgment, the long-postponed moment of reckoning, the just revenge of a long-abused people." When Browning drifts into sleep, Player props him up and continues to paint, but Player suddenly becomes enraged "as if possessed by a demon," running about and smashing objects, proclaiming, "I'll 1926 you, you bastard." After Player is led away, Browning is told by his private secretary and granddaughter that no one will ever see the painting and that Player "won't trouble us again." Browning responds, "We always win in the end... Always win... in the end."

  • A Parliamentary committee decides to commission a portrait as a memorial to an ageing Conservative, wartime ex-Prime Minister, Sir David Browning. Bizarrely, they choose anarchic, anti-establishment and equally ageing artist James Player, who appears to stand for the very opposite values and positions to his prospective sitter. During sittings the two men find many opportunities to score political and social points off each. Screened with an with an introduction by Brian Walden, a contemporary of writer Dennis Potter at Oxford and an old Oxford political sparring partner.


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