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Sympathetic & informative view of the original Angry Young Man

Author: lor_ from New York, New York
8 December 2011

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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