Dr Schweitzer, a former internationally-famous organist and theologian, is working in a small hospital in French colonial Africa. He founded the institute at his own expense, leaving his ... See full summary »

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Dr Schweitzer, a former internationally-famous organist and theologian, is working in a small hospital in French colonial Africa. He founded the institute at his own expense, leaving his wife and child behind in Europe. The outbreak of the First World War sparks unrest amongst the natives. It also brings the local French officials to the hospital. They intern him as an enemy alien due to his German birth, despite the fact that this will mean the closure of the only medical facility anywhere in the area. Written by Igenlode Wordsmith

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Drama

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22 February 1953 (UK)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Shown at the BFI's Southbank Theatre in August 2009 as part of their ongoing Missing Believed Wiped programme (which highlights television broadcast previously considered as having been lost) it is, as of this date, the United Kingdom's 'earliest surviving complete TV drama'. See more »

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Distressingly long-winded
24 August 2009 | by (England) – See all my reviews

This is a worthy play about worthy people, technically innovative in the extreme infancy of television drama, talented in its seamless use of filmed inserts between the studio scenes -- but the script is wordy and, alas, all too tedious to sit through. (Judging by the sounds from the row behind me, I wasn't the only BFI audience member to drop off at one stage...) Looking at the IMDb page for the film of the original French play ("Il est minuit, docteur Schweitzer") one gets the impression that the fault, if any, lies with the source; no alchemy could transform a poor script into a scintillating English version. The result is that it becomes hard to care much about the fate of the characters, whose every action and motive is discussed at stultifying length. On first transmission, the production apparently overran by 20 minutes: the surviving telerecorded version consists of the shortened repeat transmission from the following Thursday, with the film inserts edited back in after the fact by director Rduloph Cartier.

It is a pity, because the opening of the play was promising, and Andre Morell for one is a talented actor who does his best with his part. There is a good deal of sound-stage clumping audible from time to time as the characters move around, but the BBC do an excellent job of conjuring up deepest Africa in a bare studio with the aid of off-screen sound effects (the 'Africans' who loot the store hut appear to be shouting the Gabon equivalent of "Rhubarb, Rhubarb", though!) and inserted film sections which were screened between the live scenes, permitting for example Morell to walk wordlessly around a hospital ward before returning to the sound-stage for his live dialogue with the nurse.

I feel that a bit of cutting on the script front might have freed up the story and characters to come to life; as it is, we get ninety minutes of philosophical discussion which only from time to time becomes interesting (as when Dr Schweitzer suddenly comes to the end of his tether and starts raging against Africa and the Africans, sparking the hitherto reluctant nurse Marie to defend the other side of the argument). Perhaps the most interesting character as the play currently stands is Leblanc, the civilian governor, who finds himself eclipsed in every way by the younger, more dashing, heroic, handsome and ultimately self-abnegating Lieuvin, and is thus human in a scenario over-crowded with saints.


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