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Kenneth Tynan: In Praise of Hardcore (2005)

In 1963, flamboyant, eccentric English theatre critic Kenneth Tynan is made 'literary manager' of London's National Theatre. His views on censorship (can't stand it) and sexuality (as much ... See full summary »





Credited cast:
Lord Lyttleton
Mary Mccarthy
Michael White
Polly Hudson ...
Georgina Rich ...
Sir Laurence Olivier


In 1963, flamboyant, eccentric English theatre critic Kenneth Tynan is made 'literary manager' of London's National Theatre. His views on censorship (can't stand it) and sexuality (as much of it onstage as possible) set him on a collision course with the NT's Chairman, Sir Oliver Lyttelton. Tynan has a friend and ally in the Governor, Laurence Olivier, but cannot always count on the older, more conventional man's support. Demoted after becoming the first person to drop the F-bomb on British TV, Tynan struggles to stage his 'erotic entertainment' "Oh Calcutta" in the face of opposition from friends, family and colleagues, and in spite of his own deteriorating health. Written by Peter Brynmor Roberts

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2 March 2005 (UK)  »

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Did You Know?


Kenneth Tynan: Fellatio: the sin that cannot speak its name, because its mouth is full.
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Featured in Forty Years of Fuck (2005) See more »

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Spectacular own goal by BBC Four
3 March 2005 | by (London, England) – See all my reviews

Normally you would have to have done some background reading or already be well versed in the life and works of Tynan before you'd recognise this "dramatisation" as crass nonsense. Fortunately this was not the case here, since it was immediately followed by John Lahr's excellent documentary profile of the famous critic, thereby almost instantly exposing the play's clay feet.

It was evident from the documentary that the drama had more or less settled on the *least* interesting part of Tynan's life, when his days as a critic were effectively over. By concentrating on the more "notorious" period of his life, the first f-word on TV in 1965, his praise for pornography, the production of his infamous "Oh! Calcutta!" erotic revue and the emphysema which killed him, there was very little exploration of Tynan's position as Critic Emeritus which was the reason he was even tolerated by the likes of Olivier and Lyttleton (respectively director and chairman of the National Theatre in the 1960s when the film is set).

From Lahr we learned that Olivier had never forgiven Tynan for giving his wife Vivien Leigh a bad review, and had only employed him at the National in order to have him (as President Johnson might have said) "on the inside, pissing out". But the drama gave the distinct impression that Olivier was Tynan's closest and most loyal friend, which was certainly not the case. The most important contribution made by Lahr's film, however, was by the many instances of the real Kenneth Tynan on film which indicated that he did not, by and large, talk like Jeremy Clarkson on Mogadon, as Brydon had him doing. Brydon was so completely miscast, I actually thought that perhaps I had misunderstood and that the BBC had produced a *parody* of Kenneth Tynan, of the kind Rob Brydon might well have produced himself. With his jet-black hair (Tynan was relatively fair-haired) and his total inability to express through his emotions the diamond-sharp wit, intelligence and charm of the real man, this was definitely a case of "stick to the day job, Rob!" So far from the usual feat of expanding and embodying a historical figure and giving him some semblance of life, so that we the viewers can have an inkling of what it was like to actually know the man, Brydon left Tynan even more or a cipher than before.

The only really authentic part of the drama was Julian Sands's very close resemblance to the Laurence Olivier of the late 1960s - he really did look more like a chartered accountant than our greatest theatrical knight at that time - although the unmistakable mannerisms of Olivier's speech were only achieved patchily.

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