Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Separate tables for return of the soldier

SEPARATE TABLES. The only version available of the 1983 tv production of Rattigan's SEPARATE TABLES was a video-cassette edition on Amazon, so I had to have it - this meant finally connecting up my old vhs-dvd recorder (not used since 2006) to the new flat wide HD tv & Blu-ray combo, but it works, so I can now play cassette tapes again. Like many others I ditched most of them when I went over to dvd (charity shops don't want them now...) but kept some rarities I shall be gettting back to (like Lee Remick hosting a Marilyn Monroe tribute, Bette Davis's AFI Lifetime Achievement award, Joni Mitchell's video collection "Come In From The Cold", a Pet Shop Boys concert, and others), but here finally is that SEPARATE TABLES, which was only shown once here.

Its a terrific cast and looks great in colour and seems to be the full version of the Rattigan play, set at that quaint retirement hotel in Bournemouth, with those lonely souls at their separate tables, including the horse-racing mad spinster, and the retired headteacher (obviously secretly gay) whose star pupil keeps not turning up). The well-loved 1958 film by Delbert Mann of course dovetailed the two separate acts into one narrative with 4 main leads (Niven and Kerr as the bogus major and repressed spinster; its producer Burt Lancaster and Rita Hayworth as the journalist and his ex-wife who turns up).
The actual play is two separate acts with one pair of leads playing all four main parts in the two stories, with the other characters turning up as usual. Here we have Alan Bates and Julie Christie - in their fourth outing together - and how ideal they are. Julie aims for that Margaret Leighton brittleness as Mrs Shankland (Leighton originated the part), and its hard to make her look dowdy as downtrodden Sybil, with that fearsome mother Mrs Railton Bell. Irene Worth here plays her as a suburban monster of a bully, in her tweeds and twinsets, a different take on Gladys Cooper's glittering malice in the '58 film. But the climax is just as satisfying as Sybil finally defies her mother ....

Interestingly, there is a lot more of Miss Cooper, the hotel manager, as satisfyingly played by Claire Bloom - Wendy Hiller's role was much smaller in the film (though it won her Best Supporting Actress Oscar). Claire excels here, but we expect nothing less from her. Liz Smith is ideal too as Miss Meacham, and Brian Deacon (from THE TRIPLE ECHO) is the young husband, there is more of him too defying Mrs Railton Bell, which I do not remember from the film (as played by Rod Taylor).  Schlesinger is the ideal director for this, and Rattigan's play is a nice plea for tolerance for those who are "different" - it is now understood that his original text had the major pestering men in the cinema, not women - which would seem more logial, but of course that was a no-no back in the '50s. I saw Rattigan doing an interesting Q&A lecture at the BFI, back in the early '70s, a very dapper man - and I passed his house on the seafront at Brighton in Sussex, only last week, when on a return visit there .... it has a blue plaque on it commemorating his living there.So pleased to get a definitive record of this great play, which does not get revived too much these days.

 The 1958 film ...

RETURN OF THE SOLDIER. Bates and Christie's third outing, this 1982 drama  is a surprisingly enjoyable very satisfying film too from that great era of the 70s and 80s when costume dramas with great casts were a regular on film and tv - maybe thats why this one passed me by at the time (perhaps I said "oh another Alan Bates, Julie Christie, Glenda Jackson film...") at the time of THE FORSYTH SAGA, WOMEN IN LOVE, THE VIRGIN & THE GYPSY, THE GO-BETWEEN, tv's COUNTRY MATTERS series etc - this is from a novel by Rebecca West and scripted by Hugh Whitemore, ideally directed by Alan Bridges (who also did the similar period THE HIRELING - see review below, Sarah Miles, Costume Dramas labels) and the very highly regarded THE SHOOTING PARTY, with Mason and Gielgud, which I will be returning to. 

Bates is the shell-shocked army man who loses about 20 years of his memory and has no recollection of being married to Christie, a petulant spoiled beauty here and lady of the manor. Glenda Jackson turns up with news of the injured Major and she turns out to be his great love from his past and he wants to get back with her. She though is lower class and now married to Frank Finlay and I loved their ideal little house. Ann-Margret is surprisingly effective and fits in nicely as the cousin who also resides at the big house, and the cast includes Jeremy Kemp and Ian Holm. 
The First World War milieu is perfectly realised. I liked it a lot, Christie shines in a different role for her as the demanding, haughty bitch; Glenda is perfect as usual as the simple housewife and underplays nicely here. Like Ken Russell's THE RAINBOW or Miles' THE PRIEST OF LOVE (reviews at costume drama label), it is a nice discovery now, and keeps one guessing until the end. The great house looks familiar too, perhaps I visited it once, or was that Polesden Lacey another similar grand National Trust property.


  1. I did see this version of Separate Tables when it was originally run in the states and enjoyed it very much, it is maddeningly obscure. I would be great to have all the Julie/Alan works in one collection!

    Return of the Soldier is a personal favorite of mine. I saw it when it was first out and was captivated by Julie, it was where my real fandom of her began. The look of despair on her face when at the window with Ann-Margret while watching for Alan Bates to see Glenda Jackson again for the first time in years. She's so sure he'll be repulsed because she considers her a dowd and when he's not she's crushed, she says nothing but everything with her face and movements, breathtaking.

    Of course as I watched more of her work and found out what a departure the role was for her my admiration only grew. And how great that they didn't go for the typical casting of having Glenda as the haughty wife and Julie the warm, kind wife.

  2. Nice comments. I have been fascinated by Julie since Billy Liar and the 60s - when she was one of the most fascinating creatures ever in front of a camera, like in that extra on the Dr Zhivago dvd, where she is on camera unselfconsciously for about 10 minutes, being interviewed, drinking tea, smoking a cigarette and all completely natural and astoundingly beautiful.

    It was wonderful seeing her on stage in Pinter's OLD TIMES back in the 80s, just to gaze at her for 90 minutes, Again, like Keanu, she is the most reclusive of stars, but great to see her continue over the years and only do work that interests her. I really wanted her to get that second Oscar for a leading role for AWAY FROM HER, 40+ plus years after DARLING.

    1. I was equally disappointed that she didn't take the prize for Away From Her especially since it was for a deserving performance and not a sympathy award. Plus the fact it would have made her a record setter for longest space between awards, however she still works occasionally so there is hope. It would have been more of a bitter pill if she had lost to anyone else than Marion Cotillard though who was brilliant in La Vie En Rose and her only real competition that year.

  3. "Oh, another Alan Bates, Julie Christie, Glenda Jackson film..." Ha, would that we had had many, many more films by all concerned! I saw both of these when first released and thought each rather magnificent, and sadly unsung. Certainly the acting is at a very high level indeed. Recently saw Julie in "The Company You Keep" - wish I could say I loved it, but something was missing, though I couldn't really put my finger on what.