When a young girl is found dead an inspector is sent to investigate a prosperous Yorkshire household. It emerges that each member of the family has a guilty secret - each one is partly responsible for her death.
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Sudden arrival of a police inspector in the middle of a bourgeois family's dinner party reveals various sordid and shameful secrets that may have contributed to the recent suicide of an impoverished young woman.
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This production of Priestley's classic play is billed as a "TV Movie" on IMDb; it's not. It is really more of a Television Play of the type that we saw with "Play of The Week" or ITV's "Armchair Theatre" in the 70s and 80s. If you want to see a film of this story then you are better off watching the 1954 version with the very wonderful Alastair Sim in the lead role. This is not meant as a criticism of this production. I like that sort of thing myself, a staged play that one would see in the theatre with the slight difference that instead of seeing it from a static point of view one sees it through the camera's lens albeit a fairly static camera.
The cast are all good especially Bernard Hepton who plays The Inspector and Simon Ward who has the role of Gerald Croft. Neither Sarah Berger who plays the young daughter Sheila Berling nor Margaret Tyzack who plays her mother Sybil Berling are names that I recognise but they both do a good job of acting as do Nigel Davenport and David Sibley who play the father and son respectively.
All in all it's a very entertaining production. Generally I've found Priestley's work to be politically questionable and morally objectionable however and this play is no exception. It might appeal to a Collectivist but Libertarian Individualists like myself are not so easily fooled.
Priestley's main point is that we are all responsible for what happens to others and I think this is socialist-Marxist collective clap-trap. We are all individuals. The girl who is supposed to have killed herself was given more than enough help to have pulled her own socks up. Why when she was set up in a flat and given money the first time around did she not take the opportunity to start up a small business or other entrepreneurial venture so that she had something for the future and even after having another affair out of wedlock and becoming pregnant when she is given money by the would be father she apparently spends it on a holiday at the seaside "so she can remember the good times" and then refuses to take more because she knows it is stolen.
Birling dismisses her for being a "trouble-maker". Well as an employer wasn't he perfectly within his rights do do so? Maybe she was a trouble-maker. Then Gerald Croft sets her up in "rooms" that he has at his disposal, rent-free and generously gives her some money. True - he eventually takes that all away at the conclusion of his summer fling but she knowing that that would happen, why didn't she put something away for a rainy day? Why didn't she look for any old job and more humble accommodation so that she could be self sufficient after the gift horse has bolted? The Inspector's "holier than thou" attitude and suggestion that everyone at the dinner table that evening was in their own way morally responsible for the girl's downfall is nonsense and it's interesting to note that the first production of this play was staged in Soviet Russia in 1945, five years after Priestley had broadcast left-wing propaganda for the BBC that (according to Wikipedia) had "...influenced the birth of the Welfare State".
Also interesting is the fact that "Priestley's name was on Orwell's list, a list of people which George Orwell prepared in March 1949 for the Information Research Department, a propaganda unit set up at the Foreign Office by the Labour government. Orwell considered these people to have pro-communist leanings and therefore to be inappropriate to write for the IRD" (Wikipedia). How's that for the pot calling the kettle "black".
The play is supposed to be a critique of the class system but this is unfair and twisted. The rich Birling Family are cast as the "baddies" who pray on the poor working class girl when in fact the opposite is true. Mr Birling, a mill owner, is providing employment and goods at risk of his own capital and the "poor working class girl" makes trouble for him so she loses her job and then she is generously provided for by not one but two young men. In short she looks for a handout, gets it twice over and blows it just like many of today's scroungers who complain about their lot as they sit in furnished council houses in front of 42 inch colour televisions all paid for by the Birlings of this world.
Politics aside, this is still a most enjoyable production and well worth watching if it's not taken too seriously although getting hold of a commercial copy from mainstream sources doesn't seem possible. It has not been released on DVD and probably never will be.
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