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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
James Barrie's literary fame has never disappeared, but it has shrunk
terribly. Although of late this seems to be changing, in reality it is
still grounded on one work of his. He wrote the novel and then the play
PETER PAN, immortalizing Peter, Wendy, her brothers, the lost boys,
Captain Cook, Smee, the pirate crew, Tiger Lily and the Indians, and
Tinker Bell the fairy. The recent film about how Barrie created the
play was a success last year - but it remains firmly in place dealing
with the one story everyone recalls Barrie created.
Forgotten, of course, is the various novels about Scottish life that gave him his early literary reputation. Best of these was THE LITTLE MINISTER, which was turned into a successful early movie with Katherine Hepburn. He also wrote other successful West End plays, such as DEAR BRUTUS (which was an early starring work for Helen Hayes), and this play: THE ADMIRABLE CRICHTON. Yet Barrie's plays (pace PETER PAN) are rarely produced - especially on television.
The original "Admirable Crichton" was a figure in Elizabethan England, who had made a name for himself as a scholar (especially of languages), courtier, lover, minor writer, and adventurer, before he was killed in a fight in the late 16th Century. Ironically the term "the admirable Crichton" which was to complement the man for his achievements survived his actual achievements, so that he is but a footnote today. But the phrase now means (when it is used) that the person to whom it is applied is quite a clever and capable fellow in several fields.
Barrie took this to examine society and it's hypocrisy. Lord Loam (Laurence Naismith) is an outspoken "Liberal" peer of the realm who talks a great deal about equality and democracy. But his daughter (Virginia McKenna) is going to be married to another aristocrat soon. But first Loam and his family are going on a short vacation to the south seas. With them is the family butler, Crichton (Bill Travers), who is extremely capable to do all sorts of things that his betters just take for granted. He has good executive and organizational abilities as well. But he is from a class that produces butlers. Moreover he is supposedly engaged to one of the parlor-maids.
The family and Crichton board a chartered yacht. Ah, but it is sunk in a collision off a deserted island, and while everyone survives the social order does not. Crichton is the only one in the group who knows how to survive. When some of the men try to put him in his place, he knocks them down firmly putting them in theirs. Soon Crichton is ruling the group and the island, and his Lordship and the others are his vassals. This includes Lady Mary (McKenna) who finds she and Crichton are in love. The turning point comes when their is a possibility of rescue: will Crichton send the signal or let it pass to continue his uninterrupted reign over his mental inferiors.
It was only shown once, and I recall the performances were good, especially McKenna and Travers (fresh from their film triumph in BORN FREE). One hopes it is released again one day - revivals of all of Barrie aside from PETER PAN are still quite rare.
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