I finally got around to watching Terence Rattigan’s The Browning Version (1951), on the strong recommendation of trusted friends and Mbird co-contributors. I had seen the David Mamet-directed(!) version of Rattigan’s Winslow Boy many years ago, and it has always been one of my favorites. But The Browning Version blows it out of the water – people, put this film on your Netflix queue now! To say that it illustrates pretty much all of the themes that we love to explore on this site – death and resurrection, judgment and love, grace in relation to human bondage/suffering, yes even Law and Gospel – would be reductive. It’s simply a beautiful and profound work of art, from top to bottom, with an especially astounding performance from Michael Redgrave. And if the final scene does not leave you in tears, I’m not sure I want to know you…
Another unequivocal Rattigan masterpiece is “The Deep Blue Sea”, first performed March 6, 1952, and made adapted for the screen twice [ed. update: once in 1955 and once in 2011]. The play begins with Hester Collyer being discovered by her neighbors following a failed suicide attempt. Some time before, Hester had left her husband, a respectable judge, for a semi-alcoholic former RAF pilot. Their relationship was passionate but Hester’s neediness soon overwhelms her lover, and he bolts, leaving her stranded and desperate. Her only solace comes in the form of another resident of the tenement house, the kindly gambler (and fellow sufferer) Mr. Miller. Both of the following excerpts come from Act III, and the first may sound familiar to some of you:
MILLER. Easily. To live without hope can mean to live without despair.
HESTER. Those are just words.
MILLER. … (He twists her roughly round to face him. Harshly) Your Freddie has left you. He’s never going to come back again. Never in the world. Never.
(HESTER wilts at each word as if it were a physical blow)
HESTER (wildly) I know. I know. That’s what I can’t face. (She breaks away from Miller, falls on her knees across the downstage end of the sofa in a paroxysm of grief, burying her head in her arms)
MILLER (with brutal force) Yes, you can. (He moves above Hester and stands over her) That word “never”. Face that and you can face life. Get beyond hope. It’s your only chance.
HESTER. What is there beyond hope?
MILLER (after a pause) Life….
A little while later:
Miller: … And you alone know how unequal the battle has always been that your will has had to fight.
Hester: ‘I tried to be good, and failed.’ Isn’t that the excuse all criminals make?
Miller: When they make it justly, it’s a just excuse.
Hester: Does it let them escape their sentence?
Miller: Yes, if the judge is fair — and not blind with hatred for the criminal — as you are for yourself.