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John Osborne and the Gift of Friendship (2006)

An in-depth look at the life of English playwright John Osborne.




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Credited cast:
Himself (archive footage)
John Heilpern ...
Himself (archive footage)
Himself (archive footage)
Helen Osborne ...
John Osborne ...
Himself (archive footage)
Himself (archive footage)
Kenneth Tynan ...
Himself (archive footage)


In 1956 John Osborne changed the face of British theatre with his emotionally charged play, Look Back in Anger. Set in a scruffy flat in a typical town in the Midlands, and starring anti-hero Jimmy Porter as the first "angry young man" railing at national apathy, the play captured the imagination of the increasingly disillusioned post-war British public. A unique aspect of this two-hour film about the playwright is the recent discovery of extracts from some of the original stage performances of Osborne's most famous plays, material of great historical importance not seen for almost 40 years - Laurence Olivier in 'The Entertainer'; Albert Finney in 'Luther'; Nicol Williamson in 'Inadmissable Evidence'; Robert Stephens in 'Epitaph for George Dillon'; Jill Bennett in 'A Patriot for Me', with a very young John Osborne as Reidl, as well as behind-the-scenes footage from Osborne's Oscar-winning film Tom Jones. Contributions are from Richard Burton, David Hare, Kenneth Tynan, Tony Richardson... Written by Digital Classics DVD

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8 May 2006 (UK)  »

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References Look Back in Anger (1959) See more »

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Sympathetic & informative view of the original Angry Young Man
8 December 2011 | by See all my reviews

As a fan, I was thrilled with Tony Palmer's sensitive portrait of playwright John Osborne, made a decade after his death. It puts into perspective his achievements and personality, after evidently many years in which the man, like so many other precocious artists (Orson Welles perhaps the archetype), was written off by the establishment.

Since Palmer is best known for his Ken Russell-ian appreciations of classical composers, he not surprisingly includes moving pastoral scenes set at Osborne's country estate, accompanied by appropriate score, but the guts of this documentary consists of interviews with his collaborators, friends and admirers. Many of them have passed on (notably Tony Richardson), but older interviews provide a who's who of theater talent.

The most emotional moments are provided by Helen Osborne, his widow, who touchingly wraps up the show, and the late Natasha Richardson with her warm & funny reminiscences of Osborne's days hanging out with her dad. Other wives, the incomparable actress Mary Ure as well as Jill Bennett, are shown in clips acting opposite (respectively) Richard Burton in Richardson's film version of Osborne's greatest work LOOK BACK IN ANGER and latter opposite Osborne on stage.

The sister of another wife Penelope Gilliatt, is perhaps the most outspoken interviewee, recounting John's tempestuous relationship with Penelope.

My favorite contributor is Nicol Williamson, giving great insight into Osborne's work and temperament, and featured in explosive performance in a tape of the play (rather than the movie) of INADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE (I was privileged to see him revive it at the Roundabout Theatre in Manhattan in the '80s).

An interesting roster of fellow playwrights, including Christopher Hampton, David Hare, Charles Wood and Peter Nichols pay tribute to Osborne's trail-blazing efforts.

Perhaps Olivier's classic performance as Archie Rice in Osborne's THE ENTERTAINER (put into context with the character's real-life role model, Max Miller) is the most vivid demonstration of the writer's success. His clips, from a tape of the original play rather than Richardson's film, demonstrate John's rage channeled into an overwhelmingly entertaining and poignant format, contrasting with the bitterness and bile of his other works, among which 1972's A SENSE OF DETACHMENT still seems fresh and ready to outrage 30 years on.

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